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Overcoming the safety of familiarity

- Joe Benesh is a senior architect with Shive-Hattery and president + CEO of the Ingenuity Company, a strategic planning, diagramming, framework development, and design thinking consulting firm.

One of the things that I have struggled with in groups is shifting from my role as facilitator to observer/adviser.

A healthy part of the strategic planning process is transitioning slowly and maintaining a passive role in the development of a new board structure or processes in the event that support is needed, so that plan gets traction. This alleviates the fear of removing the support and relative safety of having a facilitator or objective third party in the room as a new structure is put in place, but it also prevents one of the most destructive influences in the strategic planning framework – backsliding.

When I am asked to work as a strategic planning consultant, it is generally to improve, refine, adapt, or create a plan that helps organizations transcend their current operational benchmarks. Generally, this includes discarding some practices that are obsolete or arcane, replacing them with strategies and tactical enhancements designed to optimize efficiency or productivity.


As I make the transition from facilitator to observer/adviser, there are behaviors that would be easy for organizations to fall back into if I simply departed following my role as the facilitator. Shared stresses brought on by a large workload, deadlines, or trying to generate new clients or workstreams are all triggers for a backslide. Pressure from existing clients or over-commitments are also potential areas of concern.

Cultural changes are hardest to enact, and these stresses make it safe to hide within the confines of the familiar, so all of the new behaviors created to implement the new plan are fragile and must be protected. How organizations do that must reflect a discipline they must be willing to administer with consistency.

In his book, True North, William George captures how one can work to prevent a relapse into past habits, referring to what Steve Jobs did to prevent the same type of backslide:

Jobs had a practice of looking in the mirror each morning and asking himself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” Whenever the answer was no for too many days in a row, he knew he needed a change. He said, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life…Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. (George, p.191)

This is a truth not only from the standpoint of making sure the organization stays forward facing, but also plays into individual efforts in making sure that the new methods or changes wrought by the strategic planning process continue to take shape. The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer made popular the belief that humans tend to act in accordance with their drive to satisfy their own motivations, which, in turn, influence the world in different ways.

Drawing back to our original thesis, there is a fragile point in the strategic planning process where the organization begins to adopt new practices and work toward assigning accountability, implementing tactics, and establishing metrics. If every member of the organization takes time to assess what they are doing in the context of how their own motivations and desires for success can support that of the greater whole, the positive influence will be widespread. Not only that, but as motivations and support mechanisms become more clear, the tendency to want to return to familiar practices will be outshined by the success rooted in following a new mission and vision framework.

I have found the most success as a consultant when I see groups that I've worked with start to exhibit confidence in using the plans we have developed together. This allows me to shift from facilitator to observer/adviser and watch the self-actualizing around a new set of systems and processes.

 For more information:Joe _Benesh_2011

 Contact: joe@ingenuitycompany.com

 Please follow: @ingenuitycmpny



Great post Joe! Changing our role is quite difficult. We need to learn to ask that quote more often, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”

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