Featured Stories

Filter By Categories

A Clean Sheet Approach to Decision-Making

Deb Westphal
July 01, 2014

Corporate Decision MakingImagine an exercise that allows – even encourages – leaders to visualize the ideal organization, one that is aligned with current and future realities instead of one that is bound by past baggage and biases. 


At the root of this approach to decision-making is the question:  If you could start with a clean sheet, would you create the same organization you currently have or would you design it differently?


Why Clean Sheet?


It is important for corporations and government organizations to go through a clean sheet exercise in parallel to traditional strategic planning efforts because too often, an organization can become a victim of its own rapidly-changing environment.  Past evolutionary efforts to adjust to change ultimately create misalignment with the marketplace realities.  Leaders must step into the future and analyze what will be required for success and then look back to the present to determine the best path forward.


There comes a time, however, when the best path forward is obscured by current constraints, and a clean sheet exercise can bring clarity to strategy-making and operational actions; it can release leaders from feeling beholden to old organizational structures,habits, assumptions, or biases. Leaders must challenge deeply-ingrained, status quo behaviors and the fear of change that exists in all organizations.


What is the Value in Clean Sheet?


There is widespread value to an organization that dares to envision a very different version of itself for the future. A clean start allows leaders to:


  • Approach planning with foresight and goal-setting

  • Step out of current constraints and truly explore ways for the organization to capitalize on opportunities that may exist but can’t be seen because of bias blind spot

  • Identify current organizational constraints that must be overcome

  • Regain control overtaken by a “because we’ve always done it that way” mentality

  • Identify gaps that can be filled through methods of building, partnering, or buying

  • Be disruptive instead of being disrupted

  • Create change agents within the larger organization that will help to move the organization to a successful future more rapidly

What is the Cost of Clean Sheet?


Clean sheet is an exercise in thought.  It allows corporate and government leaders to ponder “what if?”  What if we had a clean slate?  What if we could be organized differently, be staffed differently, or use our resources differently?  What if…?


The beauty of an exercise in thought is that the cost to the organization is fairly low.  The outlay of resources to just think about things in a new way is relatively small.  In fact, if you consider the total cost over the lifetime of any type of project or program– from inception to implementation – the initial costs for research and development are fairly low, with costs rising over the life cycle of the project to final implementation.


What is the Outcome of a Clean Sheet Exercise?


Once an organization has gone through an extensive clean sheet analysis, it is natural to ask, “now what?” What is the outcome?  Can the organization’s leaders put into action the steps they would take if they were starting with a clean slate?  Equally as important, do they want to put them into action?


Leaders and advisors at this point make a deliberate decision about how to move forward – the key word being deliberate.  They may choose not to implement some of the “wish list” right away, but the reasons for doing so are real and valid. Consequences of possible courses of action – both intended and unintended –have been considered and analyzed.


The most significant outcome of a clean sheet exercise can be simply the change in perspective it brings to the organization’s leaders.  Envisioning the organization from the ground up gives leaders the understanding – and passion – with which to influence others throughout the organization.  They know what needs to happen and they are excited by the possibilities.  By championing that vision of the organization of tomorrow, today’s leaders can truly affect a culture change which, over time, brings the vision closer to reality.

Deb Westphal

Deb Westphal

As Chairman of the Board for Toffler Associates, Deborah brings skills and insights honed over 30 years working with some of the top minds and leaders of governments and Fortune 100 companies. Deborah has an MBA from Webster University and a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of New Mexico, and has completed extensive continuing education with Harvard Business School and Wharton Business School. She is also a member of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.

Subscribe to our Blog

Popular Tags

Workforce and Society Strategic Advisory Leadership Security and Resilience Disruptive Technology Rapport Feature 1 Future of Work Convergence Desynchronization Feature 3 Future of Innovation Business Resilience Feature 2 Feature 4 Wealth Creation Competitive Simulation Organizational Transformation