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SMEs – It’s not all about size

Successive [UK] Governments have, rightly, seen SMEs [Small to Medium Enterprises] as the potential engine room of growth for the economy. Having spent most of my adult life working in or with this type of company, I have become concerned that this terminology, whilst accurate, misses the fundamental dynamic of this type of business.

Ownership not size

The key issue is not their size but the ownership and more particularly, the relationship between the owner[s] and the business. I like to call these types of business Family Run / Owner Managed and would like to see the term FROM replacing SME. The reasons for this are twofold: firstly, it is a more accurate description of these businesses and secondly, if you are to help them you need to know where the owners are [to use the vernacular of the day] “coming from”.Image

The main danger of using the SME terminology is that the businesses can be seen as miniature versions of “real businesses”that just need growth to be “fixed”. This completely misses the point. There is also an implication that approaches that are successful in larger businesses will also work effectively in these companies – this is not always true.

Family Run – Owner Managed Businesses

With FROM businesses, it is impossible [and inadvisable] to separate the aspirations of the business from those of the owners and the potentially complex personal and family relationships, constraints and tensions. As one client said:

“on any issue, I can have four different views on the same day: my view from my functional role, my view from the perspective of my own family, that from the wider family viewpoint and of course, my personal view – they rarely line up!”

To help FROM businesses, it is important to understand the psyche of the business and its owners. Relevant issues are likely to be:

Positive

  • They are likely to take a medium to long term perspective rather than the often short-term view of managers in large businesses.
  • They are likely to be motivated to succeed and perhaps more resilient to difficult trading conditions, embracing solutions that would not work in large companies.
  • They are committed to the survival of the business – sometimes too committed!

Neutral

  • Skills and capabilities are likely to be focused on what the business does.
  • Desire for growth may be set more by concerns about:
    • Lifestyle / life: work balanceThe owner may consciously or subconsciously limit the success the business achieves to avoid compromising other aspects of their lives
    • SuccessionOther family members may have no or limited interest in the company or its business area.
    • Retirement plans
    • Personal attitude to risk

Negative

  • Reluctance to bring in outside help.
    • Owners can think that spending money on outside support is coming from their own pocket.
    • There may be an element of “I didn’t get where I am today by …”
    • Reluctance to confront poor performance from family members [and long term employees]
    • Risk of generational attrition – gradual decline in capability and motivation [The “Clogs to Clogs” syndrome]

So, if you are looking to work with companies of this type, you need to think about where they are coming from as much, if not more than where you think they ought to be going. The individual, the family and the business need to be seen as different facets of the same diamond,

If you can’t see it from their perspective – you won’t be able to help and they see that you can’t!

Using the term FROM rather than SME will keep the real issues in the front of your mind!

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Necessary but not sufficient

In 1950’s Fredrick Hertzberg introduced his two-factor model of motivation.

Hygiene Factors

Pay, Working Conditions, Status etc – don’t motivate but demotivate if missing.

Motivators

Responsibility, Challenge, Control over own work etc. – Turn people on and fire them up.

Whilst this has come under critical examination in recent years and is now considered simplistic, his basic notion that what satisfies does not motivate can be useful in guiding management thinking and action.

The structure of his idea, that what is adequate at one level is not enough for the next level is an approach with broad application.

Many of us focus too much attention on what is necessary for success in our field of interest. We don’t always concern ourselves with whether this is sufficient to ensure we reach our goals.

In the education field, meeting the criteria for passing a course is unlikely to be adequate to obtain a high mark and more importantly may not be enough for real learning.

What gets you a job is usually not sufficient to make you a star performer.

In football [and other sports]  the team that gets you promoted out of one division is rarely good enough to allow you to succeed or perhaps even to survive at the higher level.

Management Competence

IStar Vs Goodn his work on management competence, Richard Boyatzis pointed out that the skills necessary to be appointed to a particular job were not enough for success at that level. He went on to describe how the star performers were not necessarily better at these  core or “threshold competences” but had an additional set of “differentiator competences”which set them apart them from their peers.

In broadly technical roles, the differentiator competences are likely to be personal, interpersonal and communication skills – people with this skill set stand out from their [potentially] more technically competent colleagues. These additional skills are frequently crucial for business success.

What does this mean for you?

Think about this from your business’s perspective:

  • Do you promote people for being good at their current job or for being well equipped for the next.
  • How do you prepare them for the transition?
  • What is it that makes your star performers stand out and how can you spread these capabilities?

If you don’t think this through and put plans in place to deal with it, you will promote the wrong people to the wrong jobs. I’ve seen this happen many times, with companies losing good engineers, accountants etc. and gaining poor managers in the process.

It can be a lose:lose strategy!

Encouraging Enterprise

Encouraging Enterprise StructureIt doesn’t have to be this way, you can develop these stand out skills in your people. Our Encouraging Enterprise approach is an integrated programme of:

  • Training
  • Coaching
  • Guided Work Experience and
  • Senior Management Support

The programme is specifically designed to help professionals with technical skills make the transition into business and management roles.

Process thinking – take the right steps in the right order

Welcome to the next installment of the thinking styles for success series. Today, we are looking at process thinking – this is all about making transformations: essential in today’s hectic world. We often hear about transformational leadership and transformational change but what does this mean and how well equipped are we to deal with it.

Process thinking is based on understanding the steps in any change activity, the ingredients required and the skills needed to effect that change. It’s a bit like cooking: you need to know what you are trying to produce, have the best ingredients and the skills to pull it all together. It is critical that you provide the right conditions for each step in the process and do them in the right order.

You need process thinking to understand the sequence of activities and the methods used for each transformation. Doing the right steps at the wrong stage, using the wrong ingredients or the wrong conditions will not produce the right result. You need to get the conditions for transformation right as well, if the oven temperature is not right, you may under cook or over cook your meal – with potentially disastrous results.

In change processes this implies picking the right actions in the right sequence, involving the right people and creating the right conditions for success. Consider:

  1. If you make your mind up about the approach you are going to adopt before consulting with those involved, then you are sowing the seeds of discontent, opening the risk of resistance and potentially thwarting new ideas.
  2. If you introduce a critical issue in a light hearted manner – you may lose support.
  3. Responding to a query in the wrong way at the wrong time may stifle debate and reduce co‑operation.
  4. If you don’t build a supporting network before starting the process, you may never gain the momentum you need to drive things through.
  5. If you don’t think about the possible sources of resistance in advance, you are likely to be blindsided. Whatever the positive aspects of your proposal, there will be some people who will oppose your ideas because they:
    1. Don’t see the need
    2. Don’t agree with your proposed approach
    3. Don’t see what’s in it for them and
    4. Increasingly these days, they are bored, frustrated or overwhelmed by change

Thinking things through in a logical manner, identifying the necessary steps and the right conditions for change will help. You might find producing a flow diagram will help.

Ask yourself “If I do that, what will happen? … then what? … then what?”

Problems normally arise from the issues you’ve not thought about rather than those that you have given some attention to. A few minutes of carefully directed thought can save you a lot of time, effort and heartache!

So the next time you need to set a change process in action, think about it from a process perspective:

  • What are the steps you need to take
  • Does the sequence matter
  • Who needs to be involved?
  • What are the right conditions for success?
  • Do you have the skills to make it happen?

If you don’t it might make sense to call in some help – don’t cook for an important dinner party if you don’t know what to serve or know how to make it. Call in the experts!

Creative Thinking – get ahead by thinking differently

This is a follow-up post to: Think about it – 8 ways to enhance your thinking

In some ways, creative thinking is the most critical of all of the thinking styles – if you don’t come up with something different from your competition, you’ll always be following in their footsteps. Creative thinking is about getting beyond the obvious,  seeing possibilities and generating options for success. As we have said elsewhere – however good the idea, it will only bear fruit if it is implemented so you do need to be able to switch into different thinking modes. [See Turning good ideas into effective action]

Creative thinking is a bit like that too, it is about selecting the right thinking mode at the right stage in the process as we will see later.

The term “creative” has been much misused and applied very narrowly: we are all creative, creative thinking can be applied to any industry and we all know [or once knew how to do it]. If you have ever seen children turning a few simple items into [imaginary] space ships, houses or fortresses  you will know what I mean. Somehow, it is educated out of us by the school and business systems [see Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk if you need any further evidence]

Creativity has a structure and you can apply processes and techniques to make it easier for you to generate new ideas. it needs effort and it needs to be taken seriously, it may be your only real competitive advantage. Most people jump to the obvious conclusion without really examining the issue they are trying to address [see the catalogue of stupid ideas and inane suggestions developed by candidates on the Apprentice for instance!]

Creative Problem Solving Cycle

I like to think of the problem solving process as a cycle which leads to better and better ideas and a better and better understanding of the issues the more times you go round the loop. It is usually better to have several “quick and dirty” cycles at the beginning rather than doing a lot of analysis. This also builds momentum and gets people involved.

Creative Problem Solving Cycle

Creative Problem Solving Cycle

Exploration

To stand any chance of solving any problem [if it is indeed solvable] you need to understand it thoroughly. That’s why you start with an exploration stage.

It would be a complete waste of time to come up with a fantastic solution to the wrong problem.

This means understanding the nature of the problem, its context and the standpoints of everyone who is involved. [Incidentally, some people feel that it is better to think of challenges rather than problems. If that works for them fine – I prefer to think that it is just a mindset issue and you might as well call it a “George”. The approach works just as well whatever you call your problem / issue / challenge …]

Generation

The next stage is to come up with some ideas – there are lots of techniques for this with brainstorming probably being the best known. The important issue here is to build on each other’s suggestions – “Yes and …” rather than “Yes but …”. You need to come up with as many and varied ideas as possible – quantity breeds quality. It is crucial that there is no judgement of the ideas at this stage as a seemingly unworkable approach could spark a better, more workable idea from one of the other participants.

Evaluation

Having generated lots of ideas, you will need to organise, cluster  and evaluate them to determine which are worthy of further development. Again, there are many techniques and approaches you can use. It can also be useful at this stage to return to the generation phase as the clustered, collated and reviewed ideas may well spark new thoughts.

Implementation

In early cycles, you are unlikely to actually put anything into action but it is a good idea to consider how you would put the ideas into practice. This will involve steps such as:

  • Stakeholder analysis – who supports, who is against, what are their views, what are they looking for.
  • Building a robust proposal – have you got the scope right, does it need extending or reducing, how will you market your ideas
  • Implementation planning – how will you move forward to take effective action, what are the steps …

Each of these steps has the potential of generating improved insights about the issues being addressed and may encourage further cycles through the process.

Current best solution

It is important to recognise that for most real life problems, there will never be an ideal solution, so what you leave the process with is the current best solution but at some point you need to take action.

There are two important implications of this:

  1. you may not be entirely satisfied with the outcome and
  2. someone may come up with an even better suggestion at a later date.

As we will discuss later in the Project Thinking stream, the desired outcome is the best solution by the required date – so don’t beat yourself up about it.

Divergent and Convergent Thinking Styles

An underlying theme here is that both divergent and convergent thinking styles are appropriate at different points in the cycle. Few people are equally adept at each style  and this should encourage you to get different people with different approaches, experiences and outlooks involved. Don’t worry if this leads to conflict and clashes, you need differences of opinion. The bigger risk is that everyone will think the same.

Convergent and Divergent Thinking

Appropriate thinking styles for each phase

Way forward

The creative thinking muscle needs exercise and the most important first step is to recognise when you are taking decisions without trying to find alternatives.

If you have only one option – you might as well be a robot: if you have two options, you have a dilemma: if you have more options, you have flexibility.

You need to find ways to get a more diverse group of people involved and it can be helpful to develop a toolkit of simple techniques to get you started – you can find more sophisticated approaches later if you need them.

Creative Problem Solving Toolkit

Creative Problem Solving Toolkit

If you would like a copy of my recommended basic toolkit and links to useful sources of information, please drop me an email at jim@fulcrum-management.co.uk

Stand well back – strategic thinking for success

This is a follow-up post to: Think about it – 8 ways to enhance your thinking

January is a great time to do some strategic thinking [but then so is any time!].

To think strategically, you need to stand back, look at the big picture, see the business as a whole and take the medium to longer-term perspective. You need the wide-angle rather than the telephoto lens.

Successful Strategies

Robert Grant suggests that successful strategies are based on four key elements:

Elements of successful strategies

Elements of Successful Strategies

  1. Simple, clear, agreed objectives. If everyone is clear about what you are trying to achieve they should be able to work out how to help make it happen,
  2. A profound understanding of the competitive environment. If you understand what is going on in the world and how it may affect your business, you know who you are competing with and on what basis then you can work out what you need to do to succeed.
  3. An objective assessment of your resources and capabilities. If you understand whether you are fit enough to compete then you can work out how to exploit your advantages and set up approaches to improve where you have disadvantages.
  4. Effective Implementation. Having good ideas is of no value if you can’t put them into action. This was discussed in a couple of earlier blog posts [Turning good ideas into effective actionOne small step – from good idea to effective action .

Are you well equipped to develop and implement effective strategies? If not, what are you going to do to move forward? [If you are not moving forward, you are going backwards!]

Focus on the real issues

Most businesses need to do several things to move forward, but may find it difficult to work out what to focus on. There are many things which warrant attention and effective action requires focus on the things which really matter – developments inside or outside the business which have a significant effect on the organisation as a whole. They are likely to impact the business’s ability to meet its objectives or to compete effectively. These issues are also likely to require the application of significant amounts of money, time and effort and are often bound up in decisions which are not easy to reverse.

I like to think that most businesses will have between 3 and 7 [5 ± 2] issues of this type at any time [this matches recent thinking on the number of different things individuals can consciously focus on at the same time].

Strategic Issues and Relevant Questions

Strategic Issues and Relevant Questions

The graphic above suggests some questions you might find useful depending on the number of strategic issues you have.

Structure your issues

Many businesses think that they have many more than 7 issues to contend with. In most cases, however, this is due to a lack of structured thinking. Often it is easier to focus on the symptoms rather than the underlying disease. In these cases, structuring these issues can make it easier to see what the real issues are. This requires standing further back and taking a broader perspective.

Structuring Strategic Issues

Structuring Strategic Issues

Start with Strategic Thinking

Strategic thinking will help you to understand the underlying issues and focus your attention on what really matters. Structuring strategic issues in this way can reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed and the associated levels of stress by making it easier to see where attention should be concentrated.

Strategic thinking is a key component of pivotal thinking and needs to be spread throughout the business if you are to be successful. It is arrogant to assume that only the top people in the business can have the best ideas on how to move the business forward. In many cases, your frontline staff will have a much better understanding of what is going on in the world and what your real strengths and weaknesses are – so involve them in the process.

It is very easy to be drawn into operational thinking and focus on the details of the business – this can easily become the default thinking process.

There are many approaches to strategy and plenty of theory to structure your thoughts but the most important first step is to use effective strategic thinking.

Work at it

Effective strategic thinking needs effort and regular attention, it does not come naturally to most people and must be worked at. The strategic thinking muscle responds well to regular exercise.

Project Thinking – not your usual 9-5!

This is the first of several postings on the issues and approaches that contribute to Project Thinking. It builds on the ideas in the “Think about it – 8 ways to enhance your thinking” posting. This issue has gathered a lot of attention as have some related postings:

Turning good ideas into effective action and

One small step – from good idea to effective action

So, I am publishing this material rather earlier than I intended.

There but for fortune …

Managing projects is not the same as managing production! Projects are not continuous; they have a start and [hopefully] an end. You only get one roll of the dice. This means that you can follow best practice, have a great team and do a good job of managing the project but still get a poor outcome. Your efforts influence your chances of success but you cannot rely on chance to even things out.

Conversely, sometimes the worst organised and managed projects will succeed.

The trick is not to be disheartened by the first case or fooled by the second!

It’s not personal, it’s business

Often project managers forget that their project, however important it is to them, is a means to an end, the owners do not want the project; they only want the outcome, asset or capability. This means that you need to maintain a focus on the business objectives as well as the project objectives. A project that meets its internal goals without meeting the business objectives cannot be a success – it may become a “White Elephant”.

Project and Business Objectives Matrix

All change!

We live in a highly dynamic world today and the business environment can change very quickly, so keep the business objectives under frequent review. Things will change dramatically over the lifetime of most significant projects.

As discussed in earlier postings, it is crucial that everyone involved is doing the same project. Without agreement on aims, objectives and scope there can be no concerted effort and factional pressures will hamper progress.

Don’t forget the process

Similarly, project managers are likely to focus on the content of the project: what is to be delivered or developed. To manage effectively, it is also necessary to focus some attention on the process and the context. In structured project management environments, the preferred methodology may set the process but a wise PM will keep this under review and keep evaluating whether the default approach remains appropriate in the light of developments.

Project Thinking First Steps

So, the first element of project thinking is:

  • Think about risk and probability – there is no average
  • Focus on objectives
    • Project
    • Business
    • Bear in mind the rate of change in the business environment
    • Think about
      • Process
      • Context and
      • Content

Critical Thinking – First step to effective decisions

This is the first of the series of follow-up posts to Think about it – 8 ways to enhance your thinking. This post covers Critical Thinking.

Let’s start with what we mean by critical: unfortunately, the word critical and the related idea of criticism have gained an implication of negativity – this is not helpful. Critical thinking is about getting beyond the obvious, adopting a probing, challenging and investigative stance, not taking the information provided at face value but looking at both the evidence and our thought processes objectively.

Often in business, as in other walks of life, information is assembled to justify decisions and stances adopted based on personal biases, cultural norms and “rules of thumb”. The “Ladder of Inference” originally proposed by Chris Argyris and developed by Peter Senge and his colleagues [The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook] illustrates how these biases can be built into our thinking.

Important decisions should be based on careful consideration of the needs, facts and situation.

One of the most accessible examples of the required process is that referred to in the original post, the film “12 Angry Men” – in which one Juror in a murder trial dissented from the views of his colleagues who wanted a swift guilty verdict.

The “obvious” conclusion.

Juror #8 [Played in the 1957  Sidney Lumet Film by Henry Fonda] was unconvinced of the defendant’s guilt and wanted to explore the evidence in more detail. He pressurised, cajoled and browbeat his fellow jurors into a comprehensive review of the evidence.

  • Could the elderly witness have really reached the top of the stairs to view the defendant’s exit?
  • Could the woman witness have really made an identification from distance, across a railway line without her spectacles?
  • Could the defendant have delivered the fatal blow given his stature relative to the victim?

He also brought into question the motives of his fellow jurors for making a rapid decision:

  • Tickets for a baseball game
  • A business to attend to
  • Escaping from the stifling heat of the jury room

Gradually all the jurors came round to the view that the young man was innocent of the murder and they returned a “not guilty” verdict.

This illustrates the power of a sceptical, challenging and probing approach and the willingness to confront your own biases, faulty thinking and ill-founded theories.

The approach is to:

  • Challenge assumptions
  • Scrutinise and test the validity of the evidence *
  • Examine the thinking processes

Applying this  to your business decisions will reap rewards.

You need to be particularly careful when there is apparent unanimity of thought without thorough discussion of the topic. I am reminded of Alfred P Sloan’s famous quote when confronted with such a situation in the boardroom of General Motors:

If we are all in agreement on the decision – then I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.

Failure to engage in effective dialogue when considering important discussions is a route to “Groupthink” – but that is another story!

So don’t be afraid to force a critical approach, to encourage dialogue and to challenge the majority view. Play the “Devil’s Advocate” if necessary and bring in an independent facilitator if you feel it would help.

* The BBC and Open University joint production radio show “More or Less” is excellent at highlighting biases in the presentation of information and statistics.

How flexible is your consulting style?

Reflecting on a successful presentation of “Company Watching” to a group of consultants / interim professionals earlier in the week, I noted that they had been most interested in how an understanding of corporate culture could help them fine tune their style to suit the personality of their clients and potential clients. They recognised that this will help them pitch more effectively and work more effectively once engaged.

The importance of this was brought home to me last night when I watched Peter Jones’s [of Dragons Den] documentary on entrepreneurs “How we made our millions” – BBC 2 [9th November 2011]. It was striking how different the cultures of the two businesses were and the extent to which they reflected the character and style of their owners – Michelle Mone [Ultimo] and Richard Reed [Innocent].

Imagine the challenge of pitching for work to either of them if you were unaware of their respective approaches.

Are you sufficiently flexible to be able to appear credible to both of these companies?

If not, can you become more flexible?

Do you need to qualify your target customers to improve your chances of success?

Either way, you will need to be good at recognising the clues on their corporate culture – “Company Watching” will help you do this.

I’ll be increasing the focus on these issues in future talks and workshops on the subject.

Think about it – 8 ways to enhance your thinking

When you are faced with a critical decision in your business, you probably recognise that you will need to give it some thought but how often do you think about how you need to think about the issues involved?

That’s right! Do you think about how you need to think?

In his seminal work, Six Thinking Hats, Dr Edward de Bono highlighted the need for different modes of thinking at different points in the process and in particular the need for everyone involved to be thinking in the same way at the same time.

I’d like to build on that idea by suggesting eight key thinking styles that you should apply to any critical decision you need to make – I call this Pivotal Thinking. The key themes are outlined below and each will be explored in detail in subsequent postings.

The thinking styles are:

  1. Critical
  2. Strategic
  3. Creative
  4. Systemic
  5. Project
  6. Lateral
  7. Process
  8. Reflective

Critical Thinking

This style is particularly useful for examining information and testing assumptions. It is exemplified by the approach of Henry Fonda’s character [Juror #8] in “12 Angry Men”, probing, challenging and taking nothing for granted.

Strategic Thinking

This approach is crucial for looking at the big picture and long term. It means standing back from the detail and looking at aims, objectives, trends and capabilities. It also means looking at opportunities, threats and options from the perspective of all stakeholders.

Creative Thinking

To get ahead of your competition, avoid getting into a rut and find better answers to the challenges you face, you need to think creatively. Contrary to popular opinion, this can be helped by a structured approach which balances and sequences divergent and convergent thinking, selecting appropriate tools and techniques at each stage.

Systemic Thinking

You probably learned to think systematically at school / university but sometimes there is a need to think about the system as a whole, the interactions between the various parts and the causes and consequences of particular options. This style goes hand in glove with both strategic and creative thinking.

Project Thinking

Managing projects needs a different style of thinking to most management situations. Project thinking requires you to pay attention to the sequence of events, the flow of information and the interactions between events. It is highly relevant to the implementation of strategy and requires focus on objectives, roles and resources.

Lateral Thinking

Your closest competitors are likely to come up with similar strategies and solutions to those you arrive at through logical analysis, so it can be useful to use lateral thinking to arrive at better, non-intuitive solutions. This thinking style, invented by Dr Edward de Bono, encourages you to arrive at better solutions by attacking the issue from completely different perspectives and often through an intermediate unworkable solution.

Process Thinking

In many cases, it can be very useful to use these thinking styles in combination or in appropriate sequences. This is where process thinking comes in – a bit like the Blue Hat in Six Thinking Hats, it will help you select the right thinking style for the situation and decided on the order in which to apply them [and recycle if necessary]

Reflective Thinking

To help you learn and benefit from previous experience, it can be useful to adopt a reflective thinking style. This will allow you to look at what you have done in the past and the results you have got. If you combine it with a critical approach, you may get to the real causes of past failures and successes and develop much improved approaches.

So the next time you think you need to think about something – think first about how you need to think.

Think about it!

One small step – from good idea to effective action

You’ve a burning idea to improve your business, you would like to move it forward but it’s still a bit fuzzy. You are not sure how to get going or even how to describe it to others. Perhaps that’s stopping you from doing anything but it is critical that you take that first step as the classic quote says.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Here’s a suggestion on how to get things moving in a positive direction.

Rudyard Kipling’s famous quotation is a great way to start structuring your ideas.

“I keep six honest serving men: They taught me all I knew:

Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who”

At early stages you should concentrate on:

What you are trying to achieve

How things will be different

Why it is a good idea

Who you ought to involve

The most important issues are to put some structure on your idea, test its validity and generate some support – if you don’t it won’t go any further.

You can focus on the details of what precisely you are going to do and how you are going to do it later. You will probably find that the people you engage with will have different and better ideas about the details – you can’t plan the journey until you know where you are going!  They are also likely to have some good suggestions of other people to get on board.

Critical Stage

Many projects and change initiatives go wrong at this stage because the participants end up doing the wrong project [and sometimes they all end up doing different projects!], so it is vital that you explore the issues and potentials fully at an early stage. This should be an expansive stage, gathering ideas from everyone who has an angle, don’t discount anything at this stage [you can’t generate ideas and evaluate them at the same time], even the seemingly crazy ideas may lead to something really useful.

Value Differences

Surround yourself with different types of people, if they all see things in the same way and bring the same skills, knowledge and experience to the table, you are very unlikely to get any radical ideas. You need to encourage everyone to speak their mind, table their ideas and explain their understanding.

Faciliate the process

To get effective dialogue you will need someone to facilitate the process, so you need to either develop the skills or preferably bring in someone who is skilled, experienced and independent.

If you don’t get into effective dialogue at this stage, then you will find out later than what you deliver is different to what someone was expecting – even if it is possible to put it right later, it will cost a lot more.

See my earlier blog post That’s not what I thought I was getting! for more details.

Key Issues

So at this stage, three things are important:

  1. That everyone is agreed on the destination
  2. That everyone is happy that they’ve had their say
  3. That you take the first step.

Focus on

Focus your attention on three types of reaction to proposals:

  1. One group or individual is keen to have a particular feature and others don’t see the value of.
  2. Ideas which are dismissed without any effective debate
  3. Ideas which are accepted without any effective debate

The first may well mean that there is a lack of shared understanding between the groups / individuals and the others may indicate that whilst everyone is using the same words, they actually mean different things. You need to facilitate the debate and make sure that the aims and objectives of the proposal are understood by all.

If you don’t do this now, you’ll regret it later!