By Brad Kerschensteiner and Mario Sikora
A business grows in stages and its success often hinges on the ability to navigate the common challenges of each stage. Business however often expands and contracts in messy, unpredictable ways due to countless external forces in the market, customer needs and global events. While there are certain stages to business growth, the process through these stages is often divergent and winding, rather than linear.
This article presents a model of personality related to fundamental values—those things we think are important and focus our attention on, sometimes to the detriment of other areas. We explain how our innate Instinctual Biases can shape how we attend to business, often contributing to both our success and our struggles. Understanding these non-conscious biases and learning to manage them rather than be impeded by them can greatly increase the chances of a business succeeding, especially as it finds its footing in the early stages of its life-cycle.
It is common practice for business leaders to turn to certain planning tools as an attempt to bring order and predictability to these mercurial challenges. Existing business planning tools typically come in two forms: a traditional business plan (including writing an executive summary, completing a market analysis, defining the products or services, etc.) and strategic planning (e.g. the VRIO and SWOT frameworks) that assist in a developing and implementing a strategy, identifying KPIs, etc.
Although these are important tools, the agreed upon strategy and tactics (e.g. increase sales) is often influenced by an Instinctual Bias (more on this below) of the leadership team or whoever is completing the strategic plan. As a result, certain strategic iniatives get over-emphasized while others are downplayed or even neglected.
The challenges at each stage of business growth can be better navigated when understood through the three “Instinctual Bias”, resulting in more effective planning.
The Three Instinctual Biases
The instinctual biases are deeply ingrained tendencies to find certain aspects of life more important than others and to focus our attention accordingly. In short, they are at the heart of our systems of values—the fundamental biological needs that matter most to us. Let’s look a little closer at the three biases:
Those with a dominant bias toward Preserving tend to focus on ensuring that they, and those they care about, have sufficient food, shelter, and all the other resources that not only sustain life but make it comfortable. They are attuned to needs related to their health and well-being and they are often collectors or cultivators of the traditions and artifacts that create a sense of continuity with the past. They can fall into the trap of over-doing their preserving tendencies, never feeling that they have quite enough of what they need, that something may disrupt their comfort or well-being, or believing that resources are scarce even when they are not.
Leaders with a Preserving bias, in general, tend to be drawn to the fundamental, “nuts and bolts” issues related to business and organizations. They tend to be more cautious and conservative, and more risk-averse in general. They tend to want to ensure that administrative issues are in order and that procedures are being followed. They can be resistant to change and new ways of doing things, and they often like to be the Devil’s Advocate who challenges new ideas. They usually prefer tradition to risky experimentation. These tendencies can make them good leaders for organizations that need stability and order. The downside, of course, is that they can be too resistant to change, conservative, and tradition-bound and may struggle in a fast-changing environment.
Those with a dominant bias toward Navigating tend to focus on the workings of the group and their (and others’) status in it. They want to understand the group hierarchy, the interrelationships of the members of the group, and how they can fit into it better. They are “soft networkers” who don’t push themselves on others but maintain connection with a broad and loose network that allows for a flow of information about trust and reciprocity issues. (It is important to note that Navigators are generally more interested in collecting information that may be useful in the future than they are in talking about themselves.) They can overdo their navigating tendencies and become gossips, or become overly concerned with how others perceive them. They may tell people what they want to hear (rather than the whole truth) or seem like snobs who look down on those who don’t meet their criteria for inclusion into the group.
Leaders with a Navigating bias, in general, are drawn to issues related to group dynamics and interpersonal communication. They track group cohesion and status changes; they tend to be attuned to organizational politics, intuitively knowing which levers to pull in order to move projects around obstacles. They are able to instinctively read the pulse of the group, assess morale, and know who needs to be pushed, who needs to be nurtured, and who the influencers are. They tend to be good at identifying the needs of the various constituencies in the organization and finding ways to satisfy them. Navigating leaders tend to be good in the “forming” stage of team dynamics, where the group is finding its identity and ways of working together. They may, however, become too focused on the political dynamics of the group and spend more time on the politics than on the organization’s ultimate business goals.
Those with a dominant bias toward Transmitting tend to focus on demonstrating their charm, charisma, and accomplishment. They are both broadcasters and narrow-casters—they non-consciously transmit signals that attract attention and then home in on individuals who are receptive to the signals, establishing intense connection with specific individuals, even if only for a short time. The transmitting bias also drives them to leave an impression on their world, creating a legacy that ensures that part of them lives on. They can overdo their transmitting tendencies and draw too much attention to themselves, taking up all the “space” in the room and leaving others feeling unimportant or ignored or, conversely, smothered by the intensity of the transmitter.
Leaders with a Transmitting bias, in general, are often charismatic and bold. They are often good at articulating a goal or vision and moving others toward it, seducing some and driving others as necessary. They often intuitively understand the mind of the market and the customer and are persuasive sellers of the product, company, or dream. They can be competitive and are often the alpha males and females of the group. Transmitting leaders tend to be good in the start-up phase of a business when the organization needs an inspiring vision to rally around. On the downside, the transmitting impulses can cause these leaders to focus too much on themselves, their accomplishments and their desirable qualities.
It is important for leaders to recognize that the IBs shape their understanding of what they see as valuable and deserving of attention, energy and resources. For example, if you are a new business owner high in Transmitting you may naturally understand the importance of pursuing new clients and building a brand meanwhile ignoring the need to complete a proper competitive analysis, a common Preserving task in the early stage of business growth. Knowing your dominant IB will help you quickly identify the areas of business that you might ignore or neglect and enable you to then intentionally invest your attention to these areas.
By paying attention to the Instinctual Biases at each stages of development, and attending to the aspects of business related to each instinctual domain, a business can increase its odds of survival and be more adaptable to change. This does not need to be done in a linear fashion—again, business is often volatile, and it is common to circle back to a previous stage. For example, at the growth stage, a business trying to scale will have trouble doing so if core processes (e.g. customer follow up) are not clear, efficient and replicable. Some businesses will begin to experience rapid revenue growth only then to realize they must back-track to and set up their systems or clarify their vision and mission.
Below are common stages of business development with corresponding challenges across all three instinctual domains.
Stage 1: Planning/Seeding
In this initial stage a business concept is clarified and planned; resources are then mobilized to guarantee a successful launch.
P: Writing a business plan/canvas to determine viability; completing a competitive analysis; securing financing and capital.
N: Establishing a board of advisors; creating initial team; creating relationships with potential investors or partners.
T. Clarifying the organization’s Vision/Mission/Core values; developing a brand and marketing strategy/campaign.
Stage 2: Launch/Startup
In this stage a business delivers the initial product or service offering, securing customers and clients, and consistently delivering the product or service.
P: Establishing processes and systems; evaluating external trends in business (e.g. PESTLE Analysis); setting annual/quarterly goals.
N: Training and onboarding team members; networking; building collaborative and affiliative partnerships
T: Marketing/branding campaigns; brand activation launch.
Stage 3: Stabilization
In this stage, the business has an established viable product or service. It may now focus on retaining the existing customer base and building consistency in its product or service offering.
P: Improving efficiency of all processes/systems (administrative, operational, financial, etc.) using systems such as Agile; implementing metrics (e.g. OKRs, KPIs) to ensure high performance; long-term strategic planning frameworks (e.g. SWOT, VRIO); selecting and developing an organizational structure.
N: Internal: focus on culture, talent retention and development. External: Community relations and charitable giving.
T: Client retention focus; brand management, and business-trend monitoring.
Stage 4: Growth/Expansion
In this stage, a business may now focus on scaling or direct the company to a sustainable level with new staff that allows more hands-off ownership.
P: Replicating established processes and systems. Evaluating benefits of scaling (Scale & Scope Analysis)
N: Creating a talent pipeline. Continued focus on talent retention and development. Creating referral ecosystem; Establishing Board of directors. Setting up remote teams.
T: Aggressive focus on strategic innovation, technology, digital transformation. Change Management communication strategy
Stage 5: Maturity/Selling
In this stage, a business now has managerial talent, well-developed systems, and substantial financial resource; the central concern is how to manage their financial gains, maintain a healthy culture and potentially sell the company.
P: Determining EBITA Score; revolving growth strategy around increasing this score. Establishing succession management plan
N: Sourcing potential buyers and incoming C Suite.
T: Creating interest; Negotiation; Reputation and Brand Management
Awareness to Action International works with clients to analyze their Instinctual Bias profile (of individuals, teams, and the organization) and then create strategies for addressing the issues outlined in this article. Once you understand the Instinctual Biases, we can help you apply them to business planning in a variety of ways, including:
1. Identify the dominant Instinctual Biases of your leadership team, it’s members, and the business as a whole. Which Instinctual Bias might you have a tendency to ignore or neglect?
2. Identify the stage that your business is currently in and clarify the specific needs/solutions across all three domains (Preserving, Navigating and Transmitting). What is the risk of neglecting any one Instinctual Bias at this particular stage? How can you mitigate against this risk?
3. Develop simple, measurable strategies across each instinctual domain at your stage of business.
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