The High Cost of Assumptions

by Dr. Scott Andersen in ,


What are your assumptions costing you?

I have been thinking a lot this past week about an activity in which I participated during the Knowledge Universe Field Leadership Academy in Phoenix.  The activity was designed to help me unveil the full potential of my business.  In this case, “my business” means the region of schools (centers) in which I have stewardship.

During the activity, I went through a series of steps that opened my eyes to the bottom line upside that is possible.  Basically, it was an activity that allowed me to see what it would take to fully realize that potential.

It allowed me to see that I have about 41% topline growth available to me. That involves huge dollars!

That potential identification was followed up with being asked to set a stretch goal for my team. The stretch goal was designed for us to go beyond our 2015 budget and to see what we could do once we better understood that potential.  My stretch goal was about 3% growth.  Yep, 3% out of a potential 41% upside.

Hardly a courageous position

As soon as I submitted my stretch goal, I knew it was not the correct one.  I knew I had not truly stretched.

While I usually am a quick responder to many situations, the fallout from this activity has left me thinking deeply and reflectively about my work and about my leadership.  More importantly, it is how I, as a leader, am impacting the results on my team.

This afternoon I went for a bike ride.  When I ride, I am usually quite thoughtful and also usually very insightful.  Today was no different.

To help stir my thoughts, creativity and actions, I listened to a church sermon podcast.  I like to do that when riding because I am a totally captive audience and thus, pay very close attention.

What my thoughts and this podcast made me realize was why I failed to truly develop a stretch goal.  I made a lot of assumptions.  I imagine these assumptions may also be relevant to others.

I am summarizing them below.

1.      The Ability Assumption.  Part of what went into my non-stretch goals was the fact that perhaps I doubted my own ability and even the ability of my team to reach new levels of performance.

2.      The Significance Assumption. This is the assumption that perhaps my contribution to the company as a whole isn’t really that important.  It could also be the thought of a Center Director that their small center doesn’t really make a difference by thinking something like, “I only have 45 FTEs, what would 5 more do for the region or for the company?”

3.      The Safety Assumption. This is the assumption that makes you think it is better to not get out of your comfort zone and to not risk any type of failure.  In this case, talent and energy are, in essence, buried in the ground and wasted.

4.      The Urgency Assumption. This could also be called the Lack of Urgency Assumption. When you have this assumption, you assume that there is not any urgency to respond to the conditions that exist and that there is no immediate need to tap into your potential.

5.      The Maintenance Assumption.  With this you act as if it is ok, or even good, to be maintaining your current level of performance.  This one is often true when performance is in the acceptable range, or “on plan.”

6.      The Entitlement Assumption. This one is a bit of a tough one. It can manifest itself through taking things for granted and becoming comfortable with your actions.  For instance, we can take our business performance for granted because “we all do fine” or because our center is almost always full or because we have experienced a pattern of the times of the year when our enrollment grows.  The bottom line is that there is NO entitlement in business.  We have to earn everything we get and everything we get is a direct result of the actions that we take or don’t take.

So what is the cost of my assumptions? The clear answer is under performance from me and my team which then results in the loss of unrealized dollars to our company.

As a result of my disappointment around my non stretch goals, I am hitting the reset button. I am setting a whole new goal for my business and then I am going to work with my team to drive those results. The outcomes are that I will meet, exceed or miss the goals.  But in order for me to do my best, I must reach through my assumptions, help my team do the same, and work with laser sharp focus on the things that matter most.