ASSURE: how to know the answer

This time of year, as we are doing full year reviews of our finances, setting up employee reviews, and setting sales goals, many of us find our brains full of questions about why things went the way they did in the past. Knowing that you want things to be different can result in you questioning everything about how things have gone.

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This is an important and necessary step in running a long-term sustainable business that makes you money and has the impact you want in your family, community, and the world. As entrepreneurs, we spend a lot of time in what I call, Big Picture Dreaming. We have ideas. Lots of ideas. We can see how our worlds would be better if we were able to do all the things we want to do.

We are also really good at doing all the things. We work harder than most people we know, and we keep going day after day because we believe in this thing that we are building.

But, just like with other areas of our lives, in order to feel balanced, we need the yin to this yang. If we are always in the doing and dreaming phase, we don’t allow ourselves the ease that comes from the inverse of this: the reflecting and transformation phase.

Understanding the actions and reactions of your business will help you reflect in a way that is more mindful and in line with your values. It will also lead to more intentional Big Picture Dreaming and more focused doing all the things.

However, we want to be sure that we are employing productive tools for analysis. This will keep you from making big changes as a reaction to results that you don’t like. It will also help you feel more confident that your decisions weren’t made willy-nilly, but came from a place of true thoughtfulness.

As I explained in my previous post, Down with the Full Year Review, this is not about analyzing your entire business practice and feeling defeated or guilty about what could have gone better. This process is about examining one specific thing you would like to be different and feeling positive about the possibility of changing it.

We all need a little assurance in our business - that we are doing the best we can, that it will all work out, and, sometimes, that we aren’t crazy for even trying! That’s why the process I have created is called ASSURE. And this will keep you from those sleepless nights that so often come with being a Changemaker.

Ask the question.

Start with the question you have. Think about the thing that you want to be different and put it in question form. Inquiry breeds action. This is the first step to getting caught in the trap of over-analyzing the past. If this part is harder for you, think about what you would ask a consultant or friend in order to get advice on how to change the thing you want to change.

Some examples could be, “Why did I have such high turnover?” or “Why did I work so much harder and make less money?”

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Be Specific.

Get really clear on what it is you are asking. Be specific. The more specific you can get, the easier it will be to know the answer. “Why did I have such high turnover?” can be translated into “Why did my top employee leave for another company?” or “Why did I have more than one person who didn’t make it through their 30 day trial period?” The goal is to get the question specific enough that you can focus on one aspect and make one decision.

Say it in future language.

The goal is future results, so use future language. We want the exercise to be productive towards creating future change, not beating ourselves up over past struggles. We cannot change the past! “Why did my top employee leave for another company?” can be reworded to “How can I hire and retain top talent?”

This step can also be combined with being specific. When you are honing in on what the real question you have is, many times it will present itself in a future question. “Why did I work so much harder and make less money?” becomes “How can I weed out clients that bring in more headaches than revenue?” or “What systems can I put in place to automate things?”

Understand the variables.

Make lists. Process. Remember. This is where you want to think about everything that affected that situation. Because our business is our sole responsibility, it’s easy for us to take all the blame ourselves. The reality is that everyone we interact with and everything we do is affected by a number of variables. Some of us have a tendency to make broad sweeping changes when either one small shift could make a big difference or when the result was completely out of our control.

This is the one part of the process where you will spend some time thinking about the past - the experience that you want to go differently in the future. Choose one example of the question you came to in steps 1 and 2. Give yourself a time limit, don’t fall into the trap of focusing on what went wrong, and be honest. Free-writing as opposed to deep thinking works best.

Let’s look at one of the above examples: “How can I hire and retain top talent?” Allow yourself 15 minutes to think about all the times a hire didn’t work out or someone that you really valued moved on. Free-write everything that might have contributed. Some examples could be:

  • I hired quickly because I was nervous about an upcoming deadline.

  • Their partner got a job in a new state.

  • They asked for a raise, and I said no.

  • I rescheduled our weekly check-in multiple times.

  • They came in during a busy time and had to jump right in without as much training as I would have liked.

  • Their workload increased drastically without a conversation with me about expectations, responsibility, and compensation.

The key, again, is not to beat yourself up for your choices - the key is to list (without judgment) all the things that happened around that time.

Recognize your part.

Once you have your list, cross off anything that you had no control over. For example, a family situation that caused someone to move out of state is completely out of your control. No policy updates or attitude shifts would have changed that.

Be realistic here. Don’t take the blame for things that you couldn’t control, but also acknowledge when you could have done something to shift a situation. Instead of hiring someone who didn’t feel like the perfect fit (because you had a big project or deadline), could you have brought in a temp or asked one of your other staff to carry a little more weight (with extra compensation)? Could you have communicated better around not giving someone a raise? For example, “While I’m thrilled with your productivity and attitude, we only give raises one time per year as a company policy.” or “I understand that you feel your job has changed and that deserves more compensation, but in order for that to happen, I need to see X, Y, and Z.”

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Again, be careful not to get stuck in this part. We don’t want to spend hours beating ourselves up for what could have been different. It’s kind of like when you are learning to meditate and are told, “Allow the thought to come in. Acknowledge it. And let it go.” Think about what you could have done differently (if anything), acknowledge it. And let it go."

If you look at your list and everything is crossed out - you realize that you didn’t have a part in the result, stop and acknowledge that too. You may not even need to finish the rest of the exercise! Let go of this situation and get back to building your dream. Or, go to the next example that feeds the question you have and do the previous two steps again (Understand and Recognize).

Even though this process works through only one example, it is not necessary to apply it to every example you may come up with (IE every client that brought in more headache than revenue) - we are habitual people, and this is about changing your habits in decision making, not over-analyzing your past choices.

Engage your values.

This is the key to making this process productive and game changing. Once you’ve come up with a small list of things that you could have done differently, engage the values you have laid out for your business to determine if doing things differently would have been in line with them.

Yes, we all want to make the changes that will keep us making more money with less stress! But, the key to lasting success is to do that using our core values as a company, leader, or business owner.

Maybe you acknowledged that you took on a client who presented with early signs of high maintenance and trouble paying. What value led you to accept that client? Is it because you want to be a resource to your community? Or maybe the mission of their brand aligns with something you really believe in? One of your values could be accessibility - and so, you made yourself so available to this client that it became burdensome.

Knowing that you made a choice based on one of your values will help you accept a result that you aren’t pleased with. It is unlikely that you cannot come up with one value that won in this situation. Remember, we are all doing the best we can with what we know and what we have access to!

Now, think about what value lost out in this situation. As I’ve discussed before, we deal with competing values every single day and with every single decision. If one of your values is working with people who understand that value you offer, but you really wanted to work with a particular brand whose mission aligns with yours, you may have rushed over explaining the value to them or ignored the signs that you should pass. Similarly, if one of your values is balance, but, in order to make yourself accessible, you gave up family time, balance is the losing value this time around.

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The last part of the exercise is all about training your brain to recognize triggers. The next time you are faced with a similar choice, you will remember that you are choosing between two competing values.

You don’t (necessarily) need to make broad policy changes or revamp your whole sales strategy, you just need to train your brain to look at each situation in a more multi-faceted way.

Although there will be many times over the course of running your business that changes to policies and strategies will be called for, I encourage you to think about those things outside of specific circumstances - such as the ones that prompt these questions of analyzation - and to examine them during regular values-based reviews!

Finally, this process works on an ongoing basis as well. I’ll be sharing more about that in the future!