Have you ever faced a business problem that you couldn’t think your way out of? In this post, I talk about ways to bring in fresh perspectives and unleash creative potential when serious problem solving is required.
During a recent consultation, a client explained to me how they wanted to expand their business by launching a new department. Their new department had to do with electronics, and they were excited to branch into a new market, interact with new clientele, and open up fresh revenue streams. This endeavour became our focus, and so my client kept me updated on the expansion over the next few months.
I could tell straightaway that my client was a real pro. He was very dedicated, had a clear vision of what he wanted, and sunk a commendable amount of time and energy into creating a step-by-step plan that would help his new department hit its bottom-line goals. I was excited to see how far he could take this expansion.
To my surprise, when we met for our next consult, he had nothing but bad news to share. He had been scrambling to find the right person to head up the department, and had lost a lot of time and money in the process. Already, multiple people had come and gone. He wondered why his carefully laid plans had failed, and lamented how hard it was to find quality management talent. He was actually at the point where he was thinking of eating the loss and abandoning the expansion altogether.
The department’s failure didn’t make sense to me. The market was promising and his business plan was solid. I didn’t want him to walk away from his plan with nothing to show for the money he’d already spent.
I thought I had a solution, and asked my client to give it one more try before he gave up. This time, things would be different: rather than giving the new hires the client’s detailed business plan up front, we would simply task them with completing certain objectives, then let them figure it out on their own. I thought that my client’s plan was great, but suspected it may have depended on certain business skills and instincts that he possessed in order to work. Rather than trying to force a new hire to fit the mold, we would give them creative freedom so that they could find what worked best for them.
For the first week, my plan seemed to fail miserably. My client had been hesitant to take my advice, and now he felt vindicated. People weren’t getting the parts they ordered, and sales were being lost left and right. The new guy had been thrown into the deep end, and he was flailing.
My client called me in a panic, but I asked him to hang in there for a little while longer; he’d already lost much more money trying and failing with his detailed plan, so losing a bit more to explore the alternative wouldn’t be the end of the world.
By the second week, the new guy came through. Sales were up, parts were getting shipped to where they needed to be, and customers were happy. My client’s objectives had been met and his department was thriving.
Why had this plan to abandon the plan worked? The new guy didn’t benefit from my client’s step-by-step instructions, but he had been free to try new things. Without being micromanaged and railroaded by a detailed plan, his creative potential was unleashed. He was able to take advantage of the fresh perspective he brought to the problem, something the previous hires couldn’t do, handcuffed by my client’s plan as they were.
It’s important to remember that your employees aren’t just worker bees. They’re all unique people with unique perspectives, experiences, and skill sets, all of whom can come up with novel solutions to old problems your company may be having. It can be tough to set aside your ego and ask the opinion of less experienced individuals, but it can really pay off.
In the case of my client and his electronics department, this approach actually surpassed our expectations. The new guy had actually found a way for one employees to do what the old plan had assigned to three. If you find yourself staring down a stubborn business problem, your ego aside and give this a try!