One of the earliest learning models I was introduced to when I was undertaking my coaching education was the concept of the Triple Learning Loop. It was developed largely through the work of Chris Argyris and Donald Schon way back in 1974 ...
I continue to use it today as it has as much relevance as when it was first developed and certainly since I first introduced it into my coaching practice nearly 20 years ago. In particular, the three questions that help you resolve those tricky problems that seem to defy solution.
I like practical examples to illustrate the model so here's a tricky problem for many at present: How to make a profit.
- Are you doing things right?
Start with the simple and change your behaviours. Seek out the weaknesses in your current processes and procedures. A note of caution here though ... the simple questions always lead you into a whole load of other questions. Every one you can't answer is potentially coming off your bottom line.
Do your housekeeping, check that the processes you think are happening in your business are what is actually happening. Where are the hidden bottlenecks, the inefficiencies? Is profit your problem or cash flow? Are your invoices going out on time, are late payers being chased or penalised? Are you paying on time or paying extra for being late? Is your project plan and contract explicit about what is covered? Is project creep eating away your profits? When did you last challenge your overheads, marketing, energy, rents, insurance, IT costs, wages, recruitment and a hundred other regular expenses? What's your break-even on sales?
Critics of the Triple Learning Loop model argue that too much emphasis goes on the deeper thinking rather than what can be achieved by addressing slackness in existing processes. To use the vernacular, "don't use a sledgehammer to crack a nut". No point in redesigning your pricing strategy when the problem was no-one was chasing those owing you money. However, the answers to many of these questions often lead to challenging at the next level.
- Are you doing the right things?
Here's where you start to challenge your assumptions and change your thinking! What's still not working? What does the analysis tell you? Here are two different examples..
Scenario 1: Times are tough so my customers have less money so I need to lower my prices or absorb price increases, offer discounts, extend their credit to keep them. Who says your customers have less money to spend on what you offer? Some companies are thriving! When was the last time you spoke to them and found out?
Scenario 2: We can't afford to automate! If your processes are inefficient have you really investigated the power of automation and what the return on investment would be? Have you investigated all the sources of finance to invest in new systems? Once you take the plunge to look at different ways of thinking about your profit it's a short step to asking the deeper more profound questions.
- How do you decide what's right?
Do we need to change our perceptions and challenge our mental models of how the world works? What if we threw the rule book away?
There's a lovely old joke about the lost car driver on a country road stopping and asking a local man, "Do you know the way to XXX village?" to which the response was, "Yes I do, but I wouldn't start from here!"
We all start from here. What we've always done, what we've learnt over the years, what others have added in through research, best practice models, our beliefs about our customers, staff and what we're personally capable of and what our hopes are for the future.
More than anytime in our recent history, we're being challenged to re-think what's possible and how we organise our business world. Most of that change is imposed on us and the businesses that will survive will be those that factor it in technology, not just in getting paid, but in how we deliver our services.
Think E-commerce and the shopping centre; add-in climate change and pollution and politics with Brexit and our place in global trade. Then the one that none of us saw coming to the whole world in lockdown.
My bet is no-one had 'pandemic' in their business continuity plans. How many of us had even heard of Zoom 18 months ago? New words and concepts entering our business lexicon ... disruptor businesses and pivoting come to mind.
Going back to my example of a tricky problem of making a profit in the middle of a recession. It's an observation that whether large or small, it is the businesses who have questioned the status quo in this way who are coping best in the current recession!
My tip for you this week is to look at one of those tricky problems that you just don't seem able to fix. First, do your housekeeping, check you're actually doing what you know you should do.
Then, if that doesn't fix the problem, dig a bit deeper into what other things you could do that will have a positive impact on this problem, what assumptions are you making?
Time to bring in someone else to challenge your perceptions of what is possible and who knows where that might take you? At the very least it may make you more agile in coping with whatever the world throws at you next and at best you might be at the forefront of coming up with novel solutions.
If you'd like to learn more about referral marketing then do give me a call on 07970 638857 and let's have a chat and see how I can help you.