Don’t Get Distracted!

By David Favor

We are not cool, logical, and efficient decision makers. Instead, we are emotional, reactive, and judgmental processors with biases. The lessons of self-mastery seem to come up all the time in business and personal life. I would always say that I was a logical thinker, but it turns out that my decisions were plagued with emotion and bias, just like everyone else. I have found that no matter how well we think through and document our values, vision, or plans for the day, they can all be overruled by emotions. There is no magic connected to self-mastery. Self-mastery is intended to make you aware of the impact of your emotions and biases.

Our focus this month is on strategic planning and self-mastery; values, vision, and emotions are all active in the first stage of strategic planning, so we must stop to consider each as we plan. While we are talking about strategic planning, it is a good time to mention that there is no magic to that process either. Strategic planning is intended to get you to think through what you want, review what resources you have, and then map all that to the business environment you are in. A strategic plan can be as formal or informal as you are comfortable with.

With all that said, the first step of strategic planning is to discover what is important to you. What are your values, what business principles do you want to adopt? We often use a deck of value cards to establish a starting point when we do strategic planning. The idea is, you list all the values that come to mind and then arrange them by priority. If you have partners or a team, compare the list each has built. The list of values held by each team member may be different, and that is okay. There will be a set of overlapping values that will represent the team, and that will become the values of the business. Before you agree on the makeup of the team, look for values that are not compatible with your set. You need to decide if someone with values outside of your list should be on your team. If the values are different but not in opposition to the main set, that is okay.

Once you define the team and develop your composite list of values, ask the team if they can support this list that will represent the business. If you are in a business association, like a state bar, they will have a list of values that they adopt and expect their members to adopt. Include that list with yours. We are often surprised at the differences we find, even with partners that have been in business together for a while. At this point, the lists tend to merge, and you negotiate what you want the business to reflect. There is no absolute correct list of values, but there will be a list that best fits the culture and audience of your business.

You can do a similar exercise with the vision. Have each partner or team member develop a vision, and then compare what each has developed. You will often get good ideas, and when all the ideas and visions are merged, you will have a good starting point for the business. If the process were followed, the vision would not conflict with any of the values adopted.

We have not started looking at problems to solve yet. For most of our strategic planning sessions, we try to avoid discussion of problems and solutions at this point. A discussion of problems tends to impact the vision and the values being developed. Your vision and values should not be defined based on a specific problem. If you start planning or spending money too early, you can get your team in a bind. You can become a slave to a decision that was made before you understood what you wanted. You create a business plan to support some tool or policy that does not map to your wants.

Once you have a good starting point defined, you can look at things like SWOT (Strengths; Weaknesses; Opportunity; Threats) analysis, prior business performance analysis, and the five W’s (why, what, where, who, and when) study. Having a good starting point tends to keep you on track. There is nothing fixed in any of this, and often changes are made as the team learns more during the analysis phase.

When you have the values, vision, and analysis for the business in hand, you can start to define problems. It is because we are emotional, reactive, and judgmental that we can easily get off the path. Before we know what happened, we are focused on problem resolution and get distracted from the primary goal of implementing a vision.

Did you find some neat ideas in this blog? What are the exciting ideas you came up with, and how are you implementing them? Let me know by contacting me at

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