As I started getting serious about writing a book on the value of a conversation, I was trying to put into a picture what I hear in my mind as words. So, I came up with this graph. I’ve shown it to clients and people who have echoed that it really does tell the story of the value of a conversation.
I always appreciated the planning process as being crucial to the success of anything. The better you plan, the more likely you will be successful. The ‘traditional’ planning process starts with where we are. Then, we predict and project where we think we can be in a certain timeframe. There’s a slope to that line.
In contrast, when I start having a conversation with a business leader, I’m NOT starting with where we are. I like to start with the end of the timeframe (for example, three years later) and have a very different conversation with them. We discuss what would represent something outstanding or extraordinary. I purposely say we’re not talking about ‘how’ to get there right now. But, where they would love to end up! The new outcome then creates a different slope.
Now, the game becomes what are the things we need to do to generate that outcome, instead of what we planned. The key is to change the slope, and the answers will be different. By changing the slope, everything changes because some of the things that are important to do on the planning slope become less important on the new slope. Also, unlike some of the things that typically take a period of time, the new slope can create a sense of urgency where it becomes a higher priority than before. If nothing else, the thing that changes is the expectation, the anticipation, the thought behind the new slope.
The slope that created the outcomes is a ‘possible’ outcome. Most businesses are not likely set up to deliver on really big outcomes, or they would. And obstacles always come up in the process of delivering it. So, it’s about putting plans in place and being willing to try things. The mental flexibility to consider unorthodox or untried solutions or opportunities need to be discussed and dealt with. Necessary actions need to be taken to deliver the new outcome. And additional conversations need to happen in order to fulfill on it.
The goal is to have the most valuable conversation you can have at any stage along the slope!
ANECDOTE: I was recently having a conversation with a CEO, whose business profits fell, through no faults of theirs, because of the 50% drop in oil and gas prices from last year. The client went from 14 to 2 rigs in just 6 months!!! “I get your planning graph,” he told me. “But what happens if the planning line is down?” I told him, “Then the new slope may be flat, or down less, or down just a little.” The idea behind the initial conversation is that to create an outcome based on the current situation cannot be delivered. But more of that in the book…