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4 Steps to Making Things Better—The Nutshell Version

Sitting with people who have big brains, talking about wide-ranging problems, sometimes there’s floundering. The conversation goes this way and that, with lots of good points made, but little hope of arriving at a plan for action anytime soon.

01-17 Saturday Night

Here are four questions you can use to move the conversation toward a solution that you’re pretty sure is somewhere out there on the horizon:

  1. Where do we want to be? Describe what “better” looks like. What’s the goal? Also, agree on at least one measure that will show that we have achieved the goal. For example: faster sales, additional revenue, fewer complaints, or less rework.
  2. What is happening now? Related to the issue we’re trying to solve, describe where we are today. If at all possible, include today’s results for the measure you chose. For example, what is today’s time to first sale, how much revenue did we book last quarter, or how many complaints did we have last year?
  3. What are the barriers to getting to where we want to be? Describe the factors that get in the way of reaching our goal. For example: unclear expectations, lack of knowledge or skills, insufficient feedback, or rewarding the wrong things.
  4. How do we remove the barriers? Now, describe what you’d need to do to get those barriers out of the way. For example, clarify expectations, teach new skills, build a feedback system, or change the rewards or consequences.

Using this four-part structure can help almost any time you want to make a positive change, whether for individuals, a process, or larger issues about the way an organization works. You can use it if something is wrong and you are solving a problem. You can also use it if everything is pretty okay, but you want to take advantage of an opportunity.

Using these questions to structure a problem-solving (or opportunity enhancing) conversation can help you to go from talking about the issue (possibly forever) to moving toward a workable solution.

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