Warning: Why your case of ‘get-there-itis’ hurts your agency

Written by: Karl Sakas

When your situation changes significantly, do you typically stop to regroup… or keep going anyway?

We often keep going:

  • In psychology, this is known as plan-continuation bias, defined as “the tendency of people to continue with an original course of action that is no longer viable.”
  • In aviation, this tendency to keep going is known more colorfully as “get-there-itis”… and it’s often fatal, especially among less-experienced pilots.

As you run your agency, “keep going when you shouldn’t” is unlikely to be fatal… but plan-continuation bias can hurt your family’s financial future.

Today, let’s look at why get-there-itis is a dangerous problem for your agency—including examples and warning signs to help you recognize it before it’s too late. Then, see my follow-up article with advice to help you reduce (or even eliminate) the problem—subscribe to my newsletter so you don’t miss out on any future updates

Plan-continuation bias: Why get-there-itis is so dangerous

We tend to focus on the goal, to the point that we miss when things have changed irreparably. When we ignore warning signs, we often get in trouble. And that can become an expensive problem.

For instance, you might hire someone that you can no longer afford. You might wipe out your profit margins by hiring an inexperienced team member who requires your offering makegoods to the client to fix mistakes. Or you might do unpaid client work because your team chose not to push back on scope creep.

If your net profit margins are less than 20% annually, you likely have “profit leaks” at your agency. And some of those profit leaks likely come from get-there-itis or another form of plan-continuation bias.

Examples: Get-there-itis at agencies

From my experience as an agency consultant and Director of Operations, here are seven agency “get-there-itis” examples:

  1. A prospective client surprised you by revealing a major new assumption… but you don’t pause since your team needs work next week.
  2. You’re almost done with a project… and you’re already celebrating because you can’t wait to finish.
  3. The client-side contact has changed mid-way through the project or retainer… but you keep going anyway.
  4. You found the perfect name for a client’s new national brand, and the federal trademark is available… but you found a similar trademark registered in two distant states.
  5. You agree to add something for free… but don’t highlight it to the client because it’s going to be easy.
  6. Your dream employee is about to start next week… but your biggest client just told you they’re cancelling.
  7. You can’t secure the highly-skilled contractor you need for a new client contract… so you quickly hire the less-experienced person.

What might you add to the list of agency examples?

Warning signs: How to recognize get-there-itis at your agency

Each situation is unique… but there are some common signs of “get-there-itis” at agencies. Consider:

  1. You’re starting or ending a project, retainer, or internal initiative. The American Psychological Association (APA) notes: “Plan-continuation bias appears to be particularly strong toward the end of the activity…” In aviation, most accidents happen during takeoff and landing—so pilots are especially careful during those transition periods. This includes what’s known as the “Sterile Cockpit Rule“—which prohibits idle chitchat during takeoff and landing.
  2. You plan to skip getting a change order, even after a scope change. You’re probably telling yourself that the change is straightforward or even “easy” (when your gut tells you that nothing is ever “easy”).
  3. A key person on your team—or the client’s team—changed. This is especially true if they’ve left the company, but it’s also applicable if they’ve gone on leave or have been reassigned elsewhere.
  4. You’ve hit a major roadblock, like a client losing funding or the lawyers finding a trademark conflict on a client’s new brand. The key is that the shift is big enough to derail rather than merely pause the project.
  5. You took a major hit to your revenues. This could include an actual drop (e.g., a current client wants to cancel early) or a projected drop (e.g., a “sure thing” client tells you they won’t be renewing for next year).
  6. A team member missed 1-2 key milestones on their new-hire ramp-up plan. You tell yourself it’s just a blip, and that they’ll turn it around later.

What other warning signs have you noticed at your agency… or at your clients’ companies?

Next steps: How to fight get-there-itis at your agency

Now that you know what get-there-itis is, see my follow-up article to reduce (or even prevent!) get-there-itis at your agency.This includes noticing the warning signs I described above, and then taking specific action to protect yourself… and your team and your clients.

Don’t miss this or future advice—get my email newsletter with agency business tips.

Question: Now that you know the concept, where do you see get-there-itis at your agency?

Image credit: “Flying into hell” by Elysium 2010 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

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