Welcome to the Becoming Your Best Global Leadership podcast!
This is Steve Shallenberger, your host, and we have decided to do a series of seven podcasts on the Transformation Challenge.
Because this process has the capacity to transform your life, your teams, your organization from good, to better, to best. So it is a huge concept that individuals and organizations are applying. One individual recently said this is the number one guide to problem-solving in the world. Well, it has that kind of capacity.
Rob started with the overview of the Transformation Challenge and then I introduced the Six Steps with Step One which shifted us from the problem to, “What is the vision?” That’s what leaders do, they shift the playing field.
Then the next podcast was on Step Two of the Six Steps of this process which is, “What is the current reality?” And you match those. The vision, compare the vision to the current reality and ask yourself, “Is there a gap?” If there is, then you go through the Six-Step Process. It leads you through transforming your issues and opportunities to a whole different level of productivity and results.
The third of the Six Steps is, “Well, what is, if there is a gap, so what’s the real cause for that gap?” Rob has covered that one and it’s magnificent because if you don’t really determine the real cause, then you’re gonna be solving the wrong problem, and you’re gonna end up where you’re started having to do it again. Only this time, having wasted a lot of money and a lot of time and stress. And today, we are going to talk about step four. Step four is one of the really fun parts of the six-step, it is, “Well, what are the best options?” Man, this is the opportunity to use your imagination and creativity.
So join me today in this one as we think about it and the door to the room is closed and locked. The key executives for Flying J sit around the table as Crystal explains that the vision is to save the company, and they have dug down and unearthed the root cause, step three, that created their $400 million shortfall crisis. They veered from their core competency and invested in an oil refinery and a pipeline. So Crystal says to the group, “Today, we are not going to leave this room until we can come up with a viable plan to save the company. And we have an incredible team here and the best professional resources available to help us, so let’s go to work and come up with the best options to save the company.”
The executive team rolled up their sleeves and they went to work. So this example of Crystal in this situation shows us how a great leader can be even more effective when they use the six-step process to transform issues. So think about what most other leaders may have done in Crystal’s situation. Many would gather their team together, state the problem starting with the negative energy already, and then starting work on ideas to solve it without really knowing what the root cause is. It’s just spinning the wheels, really. They would miss the key steps to starting with the vision, assessing where things currently are, and identifying the real issues.
Well, because of the insights and revelations of the first three steps, step four of the six-step process, what are the best options, really for me, is perhaps the most exciting. Why? Well, because you fostered a positive mindset to unleash your imagination and find solutions. And even if others may say that there are none to be found, this process sets it up to win. And remember the preparation leading up to this step will make a huge difference in the quality of the outcomes and options that you generate.
So how do you come up with the best options really? And what will unleash your creative juices and spawn a big list of possible actions and ideas to solve the issue? Well, two of the most powerful ways to fan these, the flames of imagination are brainstorming and mind-mapping. So let’s start with brainstorming and for optimal, effective brainstorming, just take one or two minutes before you start the brainstorming to review what you’ve come up with in the first three steps. And so, in other words, here’s what we’ve done so far, the vision, the current reality, there is a gap and that’s why we’re doing this, and as we spend some time on the real issue, here’s what we found. And make sure you and your team really clearly understand this, and now the table is set to implement step four, to move to this next level.
And so on this podcast today, I’m just gonna…the book, we’ll do this more in-depth and give better guidance on this than I will today, but I’m just gonna go through a few things that will help make brainstorming effective. And it’s just like any other exercise when you exercise a muscle, you get better and better with this in time and it becomes like a reflex. So here are a few thoughts to make the brainstorming just go naturally and well and be highly effective. The first is to appoint a team leader and a scribe so that you have some clear direction here and we’re gonna capture the ideas. Number two is it’s good to have a manageable size. There can be outliers to this, of course, but generally two to eight people is a good size group where you can really get going.
A third thing that’s helpful is to take a minute or two before you get going and discuss how you can maximize the ideas. In other words, just say, “Listen, every idea counts. We’re gonna take a couple of minutes and let’s just get as many ideas down as possible.” And what you’re really doing is you’re going for quantity at this point, not quality. You’re just getting as many ideas because a bad idea may spark a good idea and that good idea may spark a grand slam idea. But it all may have started with something that was maybe not very feasible.
So the other thing we don’t do is we don’t discuss the ideas, you just lay them out there. So you don’t say, “Well, that’s a bad idea.” Or you don’t say, “I’m not sure how feasible that is.” Just take it and move as fast as you can. And remember, we’re not going to develop, keep this in the back of your mind and clarify this at the beginning, we’re not developing the plan yet. We’re just getting possibilities out. And then set a time limit of anywhere between a few minutes to a full hour and it just depends on how significant or sophisticated or complex that particular issue is.
And then when you’re done with this brainstorming, and at the end what you’re gonna do is sort through the list for quality and then really rank these on a scale of one, two, whatever, 10 or 15. And then you can all sit back and say, “Okay, are these ideas that we put out on the table ethical and are they feasible?” So this is one way to really do this. And brainstorming is so powerful in a way to generate ideas. Sometimes it happens organically, in other times, it’s helpful to just schedule or form a session with your team just like Crystal did with her team at Flying J.
All right. Now, let’s look at another way to do this. So brainstorming, tremendous, just watch what happens. Another way is through mind-mapping and this can help jumpstart the brain just when you think your idea generator is like totally drained. And so from another angle, how many times have you said or heard someone say, “Well, I’m just not a creative person.” May even be just, you know, their justification, “We’re not coming up with ideas” but Thomas Edison said famously, many people have heard about this, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” In other words, you’ve got to work for it. Creativity is something you got to really roll up the sleeves for, and when you purposefully make time for yourself to be creative, to use your imagination, and go to work, that’s when the ideas come. You don’t always expect it but they come anyhow and so mind-mapping is a powerful way to activate parts of your brain that would otherwise remain dormant.
And that’s a great way to unleash ideas at any time but especially after you’ve hit the wall and you’re ready to call it quits. So here are a few ideas that helps you to be really effective in the mind-mapping. Number one is just choose a central idea, a problem, a vision, and put it in the center of the page, okay. Now you can draw a circle around it and so from there, for example, it might be marketing and then all of a sudden from there, number two is you just branch out from the center as fast as you can and you write an idea. And from that idea, you write another, and each one just add a circle and more branches outwards, so marketing might be social media, marketing might be advertising. That’s another branch and under advertising, you might have direct ads, or you might have radio, and so forth. So you just keep, and it goes, it’s like popcorn. So don’t stop.
We were with a Fortune 500 company. One of their leaders chose a big issue to mind-map and this particular leader had never really done mind-mapping before in his life. He started the process and then after two minutes, he put down his pen, and we looked at him and asked him to keep going and see what other ideas he could come up with. And a couple of minutes later, he just gasped and he said in a loud voice, it’s like right in the room, “I just came up with an incredible idea.” After everyone else is done, he commented to the group that this was his biggest aha of the day. His best idea came after he thought he was finished. And we find that this is not uncommon. And then once you’re done with the process, just highlight your best ideas and so though even though these two things may appear like simple techniques, they’re really helpful for leaders and employees, and let’s not assume that everybody knows how to do it because these are fresh and energetic and new.
So these are just a couple of ways to unlock your imagination. And so as you’ve been developing these ideas and you brainstorm or you mind-map, but now as a group, you’re listing what are the best options. You’ve got them down. You’ve started to prioritize which ones are the best. This is the next part that is critical in step four and that is the go no go. So after you develop this list of feasible, ethical ideas that will help you realize your vision, just pause and assess whether your plan is a go or no go. So if your ideas and solutions will solve the real issue and close the gap between the current reality and the vision, then you’re a go.
On the other hand, if you decide that none of these ideas will help you address the real issue and achieve the vision you’re looking for, it’s a no go. I mean, it’s like Orion in your map with a compass and taking a bearing of the landscape. And if the compass points you in the wrong direction, you’re a no go. If you find yourself starting in the face of a no go, then just go back and repeat the brainstorming process and continue looking for the ideas or solutions unless it’s crystal clear that this whole thought process was flawed.
So be on a heightened watch for no-gos if you’re using the six-step process to move forward for a future goal or opportunity. A company hired us to conduct a planning workshop with their key executives as they were preparing to launch a new division. And so prior to the launch, they wanted to initiate a pilot program that would cost $2 million to pilot and the company was all in. They were ready to invest in the proposed pilot. And so the executive team proceeded through the first four steps of the six steps. And when it was time to decide go or no go, all of the executives agreed it was absolutely clear that this was a no go. They realized if they were to divert their time and attention away from their core business, it could have been catastrophic. The results, they just couldn’t believe it really. In less than two hours, the six-step process had helped them save $2 million that would have surely been lost in the pilot. But it wasn’t just that, it was time and momentum.
And so those two hours were certainly worth their investment of time and energy to save them all of the pain, grief, and expense they would have faced because of a failed pilot. And so that is what is so interesting because this is not unusual. That organization is like many organizations. They’re gonna throw a bunch of money at a challenge or an opportunity without a clear path just hoping that it works. So how many times have you had that happen to you or someone you know in the past? And it was only when they used the six-step process that the path forward was illuminated with a clear direction and, in this particular case, it was a no go.
Okay, the next thing that we’d like to do is we go onto the stretch on this particular podcast is just look at a couple of examples of application of step four to give you a good model so that you can be applying this right now as we’re working through it. Let’s take Flying J. Actually, we started at the beginning of this podcast with what Crystal did. Well, we joined Crystal in a locked room with her team of executives, and she was determined to stay in that room until they had viable ideas that would help them achieve the vision which was save the company. So after they finished the careful review of the real issues which were revealed in step three, they started the brainstorming process. And throughout the day, the team came up with many options and ideas to save the company.
And so from that long list, they developed it down to 15 important actions that would restore the company and keep it going. And so here are a few examples of the ideas, just a handful of them. Seek protection under Chapter 11, bankruptcy. This was a process set up by the law to help companies precisely in difficult situations to reorganize the company and get them back on track. Give them a little time. Give them a little room. Well, this move actually would provide the time needed and under bankruptcy supervision to do the things that required to save the company.
Here’s another one: sell the oil refinery. Another: divest Flying J of the pipeline. Here’s a fourth one, consider some type of a merger or strong financial partner for the travel center truck stops as part of our business, and that also would provide an added source of cash. Another idea they came up with was develop a clear communication plan to ensure that all of our employees understand the plan so that there were no rumors or misunderstanding about the demise of the company and we could all be fully-focused together.
So at the end of the day, the Flying J team prioritized their ideas from top to bottom with the most critical and important actions first on the list. And as they sit back and analyzed what they had accomplished, they all agreed this was a go. So just as important, the atmosphere of a gloom and doom that had so recently influenced, impacted the executive team was swept away and replaced with excitement, confidence, and a tremendous focus to move forward. And what’s more, it wasn’t just the executive team that felt this new hope. That same positive attitude quickly spread throughout the entire organization. Flying J had the foundation for a bold and very strong restructuring plan in place and they were ready to move to step five: develop and implement the plan.
And so what most had considered impossible now was very possible. Here’s the next and last real-life example I’d like to use. It’s the one we’ve been talking about a little bit about Shaun and the 18 months of unemployment. Well, as Shaun reflected on the discussion that we had during our 5K walk, he was both inspired and energized and his journey through the first three steps had helped him to see the issue clearly. Now that we had identified the root cause of the gap between the vision and their current reality, it was time for the real fun. What could he do to make his vision a reality as soon as possible? He understood the real causes now, he had those clarified, and so we started brainstorming together. A few of the ideas that we came up with are the following five or six ideas. One is revise his resume to include his Bachelor of Arts in Life. We call it his Bachelor of Arts in LE, Life Experience, and what that would do is get him through the computer filters that were automatically kicking his resume out of their system.
Another thing we came up was to consider his appearance, and take measures to appear less intimidating that first appearance. And so on this case, the idea was specifically, and this is what Shaun came up with, to shave his goatee, his burly goatee. And once people knew Shaun, they would quickly discover he was one of the most kind and considerate hearts in the world. And so this idea was all about first impressions. Another idea was to practice and role-play the employment interview. So it was Friday and he had another interview coming up on Monday. That was a good idea.
Now the fourth idea is anticipate and practice every possible question that they could come up with in the interview so that he could remain calm, cool, and collected. Another thing that we added to the list, carefully research the company he had an interview with that was coming up on Monday, and be sure it was one that was compatible with his vision and where he felt like he could make a difference. And the last one that I’ll note is that we put down on this list, was to chair-fly the actual interview, visualizing a successful outcome. So chair-flying is actually just closing your eyes and visualizing the whole experience and mentally practicing the interview ahead of time.
So these were a few of the ideas we came up with together. As Shaun reviewed this list of ideas that we prioritized, we put them in order and he had this new excitement, this new energy, a surge of hope for the first time in a long time. He had a clear focus that there was a definite, high-fiving goal to move forward, and he was ready for step five which is to articulate the actual plan of who will do what by when.
Hopefully, these examples were helpful to you? How to implement Steps One, Two, Three, and Four which now leads us to putting the plan together for implementation. Now you’re really setting yourself up to win.
I congratulate you on the difference that you’re making, the light that you are to others especially as you have this type of clarity, this discipline of action, of ready, Six-Step Process, and then fire with greater confidence. But we do it at a responsible level so that we can win. That’s part of the whole process.
Well, we wish you a great day. This is Steve Shallenberger with Becoming Your Best Global Leadership.