The Secret to Solving Any Problem Your Business Is Facing
By Bruce D. Johnson
If you were to list the top three problems facing your business, what would they be? And from those three, what would your number one be?
Now, with that problem in mind, why haven’t you solved it yet?
If you’re like most of the business owners and/or entrepreneurs I know chances are the problem is either a) you think you need to solve it on your own or b) you think you’re the smartest person in your business so if you can’t solve it, no one can.
While both of those may be true, the reality is if you could have solved this problem on your own you would have. The fact that it still remains a problem means that you need more brains engaged in solving it. And, in some cases, the right brains.
There’s a tagline in the business world that’s rather appropriate here,
“The company that harnesses the most brains wins.”
This is why crowdsourced solutions are often highlighted these days.
However, as a small business owner/entrepreneur, you usually don’t need hundreds or thousands of brains to help solve your problems—you just need more than yours (like five to thirty brains).
So, how can you do this? Well, here are a few ideas to get you started.
I. Give Your Problem Solving Group Meeting a Name
In general, most people like to be a part of something bigger than them. However, asking anyone to attend another meeting is rarely a huge motivator. So, give your problem solving meeting a name. It automatically makes your program sound more important.
Here are a few names to get your brain started.
~The [your company name] Think Tank
~The [your company name] Brain Trust
~The Saturday Solutions Group
~The Problem Solving Collab
~The [your company name] Advisory Council
~The Idea Factory
You pick the name. Feel free to be creative. But you want to have a name for something that you’re calling people to be a part of since, chance are, you don’t have just one problem to solve—you have lots of them.
II. Focus on One Problem at a Time
Whenever you call or attend a meeting, chances are there are a number of items that are being dealt with which is why no one issue gets sufficient attention. For example, a typical weekly meeting in a small business has time allocated to reviewing metrics, getting reports, fighting fires, reviewing the status on plans, etc. When they get to a discussion item of substance, there’s rarely more than five to ten minutes of time allocated to that issue, which is far from the amount of time it takes to make progress on a big issue—which is why so few businesses make progress on their biggest problems.
So, to avoid that scenario, you want to pull that one issue out of your weekly meeting and give it its own meeting.
For example, let’s say your pipeline is too small. You would call a meeting for the [XYZ] Solutions Council (or whatever your group name is) and the agenda item would be something like, “How to solve our small pipeline issue” or “How to increase our lead gen by 50% over the next six months” or …
Do not try to deal with two or more problems. This should be a single focus meeting … if you want to make the greatest amount of progress as fast as possible.
III. Have Your People Prepare Ideas Ahead of Time
One of the biggest mistakes I see business leaders make in this area is they don’t give their people enough time to generate ideas. While most business owners and/or entrepreneurs are frequently idea people (it’s why they started a business in the first place), the reality is that most people aren’t. Very few people are good on their “feet.”
So, work with the way people are (not the way you’d like them to be).
In other words, send out an agenda a week or so ahead of time so they have time to think about the issue/problem ahead of time and do some research.
If you have some background material they need to know/read, add that (it’ll make the meeting go faster and generate better ideas). If not, just let them know what the issue will be (for ex. “How to increase our lead gen by 50% over the next six months”).
And then give them specific instructions. For example, “Bring three ideas that you think will solve this problem.”
IV. Put Them in Small Groups, not a Big Group, to Discuss
While, as the leader of your business, you have no problem speaking up in a group, not everyone functions that way. So, when the typical business owner says to a group of ten or twenty people, “Give me your best ideas,” how many people do you think will volunteer ideas to the whole group? Not many.
However, if you put all of those people into groups of four to six people (eight max) what percentage do you think will participate? Virtually all of them.
So, empower each of these small groups to answer a series of questions you’ve designed for them and then have them reduce their ideas down to their top three to five ideas.
Note: Diversity is critical to coming up with innovative ideas. So, you may want to force matching different groups of people together. In other words, instead of allowing all the sales people to be in one group and all the production people in another group and all the admin people in another group and all the service providers in another group. Force them to mix and match with no more than two people per department in a group. By putting a sales person, a marketing person, an executive, a service provider and a production person all in one group, you’ll end up with better ideas.
V. Have Each Group Report Back On Their Best Solutions
Once each of the small groups has had a chance to brainstorm their best ideas, you want to have a group leader report back their best ideas.
If you’re leading the meeting, write these up on a board or easel pad (unless your handwriting is unreadable). Mark whichever items are mentioned by two or more groups.
Some facilitators only want new ideas. I prefer to discover if the crowd is seeing a solution already (for ex. if four out of five groups all mention the same idea) so I want each group to give me their top five ideas—even if they’ve been mentioned already.
VI. Riff Off of Your First Round of Solutions
One of the mistakes often made at this juncture is that most business owners and/or entrepreneurs (or facilitators) will limit themselves to the list round of ideas and then have people vote on what they think the best ideas are.
However, the best ideas are rarely the first ideas that come to mind.
In light of that, what I recommend is that you empower your small groups to take these first round ideas and then riff off of them. Are there some ways to combine ideas? Or reduce them? Or enlarge them? Or use them to stimulate some new ideas? Etc.
Then have each group report back on their new top five ideas.
VII. Vote On Your Top Options (and Verify Before Moving On)
Once you get all of the best ideas from round two on the easel, it’s time to let the most brains weigh in with their votes.
Sometimes you’ll see some outright winners but frequently there will still need to be some debate about which ideas are your best options. So get your group to debate and discuss. Get them to argue for why they think one solution is better than another (Remember: the more energy in a meeting (i.e. the more heated it gets) the better the meeting). You want them to be engaged emotionally.
Then, before you pick your final winners, make sure you do a gut check. “Okay, we’ve discussed 40 different ideas and narrowed them down to our top five. The question is, ‘If we executed all five of these well, would they increase our lead gen by 50% in the next six months or not?’”
If not, go back to drawing board and work on some more creative solutions and don’t stop (unless your time is up) until you have three to five ideas that if executed well would solve this problem.
VIII. Project Manage Your Best Ideas
At this point, you don’t want to fumble the ball. Your group has made a decision—you now want them to own implementing their decision.
Unfortunately, a lot of business owners and/or entrepreneurs fumble here because they’ll end a meeting like this by saying, “Thank you for your ideas” and then dismiss the meeting. That’s a huge fumble. A flag should be thrown.
If you want to create leverage, you need to take a few minutes at the end to discuss how to manage implementing the solutions your group came up with. For example:
-Who will be the owner of each idea?
-What will success look like for each of these ideas?
-When will they need to be completed?
-Who needs to know what about what was discussed?
-Who will communicate that? How? When?
-What resources will be required to successfully complete this idea?
If you don’t take this last step, all this work has been for naught. Who cares? Nothing will change and the problem that you began with will be the same problem you’ll have six or twelve months from now.
So, if you’d like to start eradicating some of the problems you’re currently facing, you may want to consider using a group problem solving process like the one I’ve shared above to solve those problems that keep dogging you. If that’s what you’d like, then make sure you follow these eight steps.
1. Give your problem-solving group a name
2. Focus on one problem at a time
3. Have your people prepare ahead of time
4. Put them in small groups, not a big group, to discuss
5. Have each group report back on their best solutions
6. Riff off of your first round solutions
7. Vote on your top options (and verify before moving on)
8. Project manage your best ideas
If you follow these eight steps and start harnessing more brains, chances are you’ll start seeing a number of your big problems come tumbling down—and you’ll quickly become a fan of these problem solving sessions for life!
Bruce D. Johnson is the author of Breaking Through Plateaus and the President of Wired to Grow. He helps owners, entrepreneurs and service professionals grow their businesses faster with less stress and more predictability.
To learn more about Bruce, visit http://www.WiredToGrow.com.