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A Structured Tool to Help You Overcome Business Challenges

All businesses, at some point, come up against challenges that keep them from progressing. Something always breaks, and the process that worked great with 10 customers is a disaster at 100.

We call these challenges hurdles. They are an inevitable part of growing business. They are good news; coming up against hurdles means you are doing something right.

Still, you have to get over those hurdles. Our CESI tool is a structured approach to overcoming hurdles. It is four steps: clarify, explore, solve, and implement. It is a framework, a way of thinking, to get to the core of the hurdles and design the meaningful solutions that allow you to overcome them.

A structured approach is more effective than throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks.

Start with Clarity

A hurdle is something that holds your company back, it impedes growth or profitability, or it may just drive your customers crazy.

We start the process by stating the hurdle clearly. This phase aims to ensure everyone uses the same language and understands the hurdle the same way. You might also get more specific. People tend to be eager to solve the problem, and sometimes, this makes them want to skip the exploration and clarity phases.

However, if you don’t pause to ensure that you are solving the right problem, you end up back in the entrepreneurial spin cycle. You start solving problems you think are the problem but aren’t actually the problem.

There’s a quote attributed to Einstein: If I had an hour to save the world, I’d spend the first 55 minutes defining the problem and then the last five minutes coming up with the solution.

So the first part of the process is to get clear about the problem: what is really going on?

Doc Brown GIF by Back to the Future Trilogy

The best way we know to do this is by asking “why,” and keep asking “why” until you get to a core solvable problem. (You can also use this technique to clarify the problem.)

Imagine that you have a sales hurdle. You are not getting enough sales, “why” you may discover that you are good at sales but are not having enough sales conversations.

Why are we not having enough sales conversations? You are meeting enough people, but they aren’t turning into sales conversations. Why are they not turning into conversations? Maybe you are meeting the wrong people or saying the wrong thing.

These two core issues often lie at the heart of sales challenges, so in this case, you might decide to solve both of these, so you restate the hurdles as these two solvable challenges:

  • How might we attract the right people and
  • What is the right thing to say to them so that we have more sales conversations?

Clarification can take a few different directions. Through clarification, you may:

  • Add detail and specificity to the hurdle.
  • Realize that the one hurdle you’ve identified is actually more than one.
  • Discover that what you think is the hurdle isn’t the problem, so you need to look at it differently.

We once worked with an HVAC repair company – they hired us because their customers were not happy with the service they were receiving. Clarifying the problem, we realized that most of the complaints were about technicians running late. We realized that technicians were always late, and this infuriated customers.

So, our hurdle became getting technicians to arrive on time.

How to Explore Your Hurdle

The next step is to explore the hurdle.

Often the problem we see or identify is only a symptom – it isn’t the real problem. The objective of exploration is to understand the core hurdle and turn it into a solvable problem.

The more specific You may also dig deeper and explore the problem more profoundly. Look at the processes you have in place, assumptions, or constraints related to the hurdle. Consider:

  • What is working?
  • What isn’t working? 
  • What is broken? 
  • What causes this issue?

So, if you don’t attract the right people, ask what is working and what isn’t. Maybe you identify that you need more knowledge: that you don’t know why. Or perhaps you identify the root problem.

Returning to our warehouse example, by exploring the problem, we identified that technicians arrived late because they left the warehouse late. The reason they left the warehouse late was that they had to re-pick their parts.

This was supposed to be done the night before, but the person picking the parts did a poor job. The technicians knew this, so they re-did the picking in the morning.

So now we knew what we had to fix.

The explore stage leads into the solution stage. We like to end the Explore change with solvable questions that start with “How might we..”

For example:

  • How might we get the parts picking right the first time. Or
  • How might we define our sales conversation more effectively.

Now, Solve Your Hurdle

Coming up with the solution starts with answering the How might we question. Sometimes the answer is obvious, and other times, you need to brainstorm solutions and evaluate the options.

In the HVAC case, we knew that we had to get the picking right the first time. The person doing the work was not doing their task well, so we developed a few possible solutions.

  1. Train the person.
  2. Create better SOPs.
  3. Organize the parts better.
  4. Clarify better which parts need to be picked.
  5. Replace the person.

For sales, the key is creating a value journey:

  1. Identify the avatar.
  2. Define campaigns.
  3. Create a measurable process.

How to Implement the Solution

Finally, we implement the solution. Ideas are great; implementation is necessary.

In implementation, we create a plan and sign off on the implementation of that plan. Make your steps specific, measurable, achievable, implement phases. We start to think about the actions we have to take to solve a problem.

For the HVAC contractor, we ended up implementing all the solutions. That meant a rather long and drawn-out implementation plan that included new processes and new personnel.

Making these changes revolutionized customer service and turned frustrated customers into ecstatic customers. We also discovered that morale among technicians was painfully low, and they were tired of dealing with distraught customers and having to work late redoing someone else’s work. So the new process had the unexpected result of solving another hurdle: employee retention.

Here is an example of an implementation strategy for the sales issue:

  • Jeff will write the content and implement ActiveCampaign by February 28
  • Jono will design the landing page.
  • Jono will create the lead magnet on the page by March 7.
  • Jeff will write the follow-up emails by March 10
  • The team will measure results and report progress by the end of March.

Your implementation plan may be significantly more detailed. It doesn’t all have to fit on the CESI template; in fact, it may be better suited to your project management tool. The research that you do might be elsewhere. Still, the idea is to get into this process of bringing clarity, exploring the problem, exploring the solutions, and then actually implementing the solution.

This is how we use the CESI tool and use it with our clients.

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