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I’ve facilitated just about every conceivable type of business gathering – in ballrooms, at ‘off-sites’, in cafeterias and on factory floors; from high-level strategic planning to grinding out micro-granular tactics (and everything in between); meetings with detailed, PowerPoint-heavy agendas and free-wheeling, ‘let’s reinvent the industry’ blue-sky sessions.
But one type of meeting has consistently proved to be more powerful than any other – and it’s usually precipitated by one simple, anguished question: ‘What the heck do we do now?’
To be sure, this particular type of meeting doesn’t happen that often – they’re usually triggered by a spectacularly unsuccessful product launch, a collapse in revenues, a major technological or other shift in the marketplace.
Or sometimes, simply by a leader who’s been in denial for some time eventually realizing that they’ve lost the plot, and that their underlying strategy or business model lacks any cohesion or chance of success.
(Getting to that point of recognition sooner rather than later is one of the reasons, by the way, that this is the most important leadership skill you’ll ever learn.)
You’d naturally assume that answering a question as basic as ‘Where do we go from here?’ requires a near-Olympian feat of information-gathering and analysis.
I’ve been in many such meetings, where seemingly every conceivable data point has been corralled, spreadsheeted and pivot-tabled to an inch of its life, in the hope that some semblance of a future strategy might emerge, phoenix-like, from the ashes of what went before.
But here’s the counter-intuitive lesson I’ve learned when faced with a scorched-earth, burnt-bridges, come-to-Jesus moment: simplicity is not just your friend, it is truly a secret weapon.
See, what happens with most senior teams is that when faced with an existential issue, they tend to double down on what generated success previously – they default to the ‘success principles’ that were developed in a previous era – which in turn prevents genuinely new, inspired thinking.
"Simplicity is not just your friend, it is truly a secret weapon." - Les McKeown, Founder and CEO, Predictable Success
So, if you’re in a situation where you need to reinvent your mission, your strategy, your product line, your culture – anything, really, of genuine importance, rather than holding an autopsy to pore over the entrails of what went before, try this instead:
1. Put Some Fresh Eyes In The Room.
This is no criticism of your existing team, but answering the question ‘What the heck do we do now?’ requires fresh eyes.
Not instead of your current team, but alongside them. Grab some folks from your supply chain, from elsewhere in your industry – and from outside your industry, and pay or bribe them to sit with you as you…
2. Ask: "What Does Success Look Like?"
That’s it. That’s all. Ask a single, simple, powerful question.
Don’t elaborate, don’t editorialize, don’t place parameters on how the question can or should be answered.
Simply ask the question, give folks a little time to think, then go around the table, giving each person three minutes to answer as best they can.
Have a facilitator available to flip chart the answers, then take it from there – batch the responses, look for trends, explore commonalities.
Slough off the outliers and hone in on the obvious, the unanimous, the ‘of course!’s’. Agree on a form of words that conveys the core answer to ‘What does success look like?’
3. Ask: How Do We Get There?
Take a break – a couple of hours, a day – whatever works for you, then come back and ask another simple question: ‘Now that we know what success looks like, how do we get there?’
Use the same process – a little time to think, then three minutes for each person in sequence (don’t start with an open discussion – you’ll get immediately bogged down in cross-talk and inappropriate levels of detail).
Have a facilitator trap the answers, then start batching. Pare off the outliers and agree on the core.
Stop when the group starts talking about tactics rather than strategies – you can work the details out later.