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The Fixer: The Big Picture

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Aaron Stokes Column_The Big Picture_0917

Picture yourself in a cornfield, or a maze, or surrounded by really tall weeds. Whatever it is, you can’t see a clear way out. Sure, there might be a path in front of you—or maybe in a number of directions—but you have no way to know if that’s the path you need to take to escape.

You’re lost. You’re stuck.

And it’s not because there’s no way out, and it’s not because it’s impossible to get back on track. No. It’s just that you can’t see where to go. Lost in that cornfield, you don’t have the perspective to see how to get out.

I think about this scenario pretty often in my business, and you should, too. And every time, I come to the realization that, lost in that cornfield, I don’t need to build a grand tower overlooking it to figure this out, and I don’t need to be 10-feet tall and an unrealistic giant to see over the walls around me. I just need a couple feet. I just need to alter my perspective enough to find the right solution.

See what I’m getting at yet?

So, in my first couple columns I talked about the issue of “overwhelm” and how to build a team to support your growth. They go hand in hand, and it bring us to this column, because there are still questions out there many of you might be asking right now: Why do I still feel overwhelmed? Why don’t I have the staff I want? Why isn’t my business functioning the way I want? Why don’t I have the life I want?

This column is about two very important things: hope and planning. These concepts are far more intertwined than you might initially think. The fact is, each is useless without the other. And together, they’re your secret to answering (and solving) those questions listed earlier—they’re your way out of the cornfield.

Let’s start with hope, because, really, that’s where this all starts. We all have hopes for our businesses, for our lives. We all have things we long for and desire. You have to. It’s absolutely essential. Hope is your fuel, it’s your energy, it’s what you tap into when things look bleak, when running a business or living a satisfied life becomes too difficult. Hope fills you with energy, ideas and possibility. Your business and your life must be fueled by hope, or you have no chance.

But hope alone won’t get you anywhere. Hope is not a plan. It’s only half of this.

This is where planning comes in—proper planning. And this brings us back to the metaphor of the cornfield. When you’re lost in that cornfield, you don’t know the right direction to go. At best, you’re guessing. You might think something is important and a true factor in the problems you’re facing, but it’s not until you get above the cornfield and get that higher perspective, that you’ll realize your assumptions might be totally wrong.

Let’s take some specific examples. You have an employee that was one of your top performers. Reliable, consistent and efficient. But, now, all of a sudden, that performance falls off. If it’s an advisor, maybe sales are down. If it’s a tech, maybe jobs are coming through slower or there are more mistakes. Lost in the cornfield, you might see a lack of motivation, and you ride him or her harder. Then they quit, or just as bad, you’re forced to fire them.

A great employee—now gone.

But maybe you could’ve approached the entire situation differently. Instead of being lost in that day to day, you could’ve taken a higher-level view of the situation. Why was the employee truly falling off? Look outside your tunnel vision, ask the right questions of that employee, and maybe you find that there was a situation you weren’t even aware of: You showed favoritism to another tech, you hurt their feelings in some way, caused jealousy—whatever it may be. Now, with that information, the light bulb goes off and you have the clarity to fix that situation.

Another tunnel-vision scenario: A customer asks for a refund on a comeback issue, an issue not caused by your team. By principle, you deny it. After all, you have hopes for your business, for everything you want to do, and this goes against it. Well, then that customer, having been denied his refund, goes online and posts a bad review that’s seen by hundreds of people and winds up costing you more than that refund would’ve.

There could’ve been other ways to handle that scenario. Instead, you clung to your principles in the moment. You were right. They were wrong. Why give in? Well, here’s a secret for you: Being right all the time is overrated. Being focused on the proper business decision and the right thing to do is far, far more important.

So, what does this have to do with planning? Well, these are examples of following your hope without a proper plan in place. You’re driven by the hope you have, and it leaves you trapped in your decision making. A plan will set you free.

Now, take that higher-level view of your business and the hope you have for your business. Look above the cornfield, the rows and rows of decisions you can lose yourself in. What is it that you really want? What is the ultimate goal? What are you planning for? Maybe you want a second location. Maybe you want to increase profits by a certain percentage. Maybe you want to increase efficiency and throughput. These are all items to plan with a higher-level outlook. Once you know what it is you want, then you find the proper levers to pull to get you there. But here’s the thing with levers: Often, people look at a goal and see all these small items to change—all these levers to pull—to get there, but in reality there’s usually one or two that, once pulled, will set everything else in motion.

To find those levers, you can usually start with a handful of specific questions: How can I make my people more successful? What do they need that they don’t have? How can I put them in the best position to succeed? If your team is successful, you will reach your goals.

Find these levers and set yourself up to pull them, one by one. Your plan may wind up being just three steps long. It could be 20 steps, 30 steps. It doesn’t matter. The key is figuring out what those steps are to get you from Point A to Point B, and following through on them. Don’t get bogged down by too many details. Planning is about big picture clarity; it’s about how you get there. Details are for the execution level. Once you have all the pieces of your plan in place, you can execute on those details—on those specific situations you come across each day. The disgruntled employee. The angry customer. An overloaded schedule. A lack of cars. Whatever it is, your plan will guide your steps and your decision making moving forward. And when it gets tiresome and difficult, it’s your hope that will carry you through.

It’s not easy. It never will be. But you can make it less overwhelming. You can allow your team to flourish. With the right plan, and your hope to energize you, you’ll get it done. Remember that you don’t need to build that grand tower to see out of the cornfield, and you don’t need to be some mythical hero to rise above it. You just need that little boost.

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