How to Get Unstuck

When you or your business get stuck, what do you do to get unstuck?

As you probably know, getting stuck is normal. It happens to everyone and every organization. Even the best leaders and the best companies get stuck from time to time. So, what do you do when that inevitable plateau hits?

If you’re like most people you do one of three things

  1. You get flustered (and/or possibly depressed) because “nothing” seems to be working
  2. You double down and work harder doing more of what got you stuck in the first place (which of course doesn’t solve the problem that got you stuck)
  3. You give up and hope that “something” will happen that will turn this around

Unfortunately none of those strategies work, which is why so many people and businesses stay stuck for so long.

So, if none of those strategies work, what other options are there for you to get unstuck? Glad you asked. Here are several ideas to help you and/or your business get unstuck.

I. Channel Your Inner Spock

While emotions are the fuel of life, they’re usually pretty terrible when it comes to problem solving. Being frustrated or angry or depressed or stressed rarely allows any of us to function at our best. When life isn’t working according to plan, the last thing we need to lead us forward is our emotions.

What we need is to be objective and logical. We need to remove emotion from the equation so we can see clearly what’s really causing our stuck-ness. If you’ve ever watched Star Trek, you know that Spock was just that person. Though he had a human mother, he fought to keep his emotions under control so that the Vulcan part, the logical part, could see what others couldn’t. It was the logical part of him that made him so valuable during conflict.

The same is true of you. When life or business isn’t working according to plan, that’s when you need to channel your inner Spock and put your emotions at bay so you can see clearly what’s actually in front of you.

You need to be able to remove all preconceived notions about you, your people, your products, your customers etc. and look at them objectively, as if you were that proverbial fly on a wall observing everything in front of you.

For some of us, this is easier to do than others. For example, in Myers Briggs, I’m a total T (thinker). I have no F (feeling) in me. It’s one of the reasons why I’m so good at solving problems (note: having no feelings leads to other problems, but that’s for another day :-). On the other hand, for others of you, where feelings dominate, this will be harder.

However, preferences are just that … preferences. They’re not meant to be excuses. Anyone can learn to be more objective. And when you’re stuck, that’s one of those times where you need to learn to act outside of your natural preferences and channel your inner Spock. If you don’t do that, it becomes infinitely more difficult to get unstuck and do what follows.

II. Start With You

In any organization, everything flows south of the leader. That’s one of the reasons why several college football coaches have already been fired this year and why more will be gone before the end of December. Everything flows south of the leader.

That’s why when you’re stuck, your first option should always be to ask, “What part of this do I own?” Note: if you haven’t channeled your inner Spock first, this will be harder to do. Why? Because by nature we’re all inclined toward self-preservation and interest. After Adam ate the fruit from the forbidden tree, what was his first response? Exactly. To blame others (in his case, his wife, as well as God “the woman you gave me”). Truly a class act moment, eh?

Left to ourselves, most of us will have a hard time seeing how we’ve contributed to our stuck-ness. The problem is almost always … out there. It’s an employee problem or a marketing problem or a customer problem or a product problem or a competitor problem, etc. It’s always out there.

However, as a leader, the problems that lead to stuck-ness almost always start with us—which is why your default should always be to start with you.

I remember several years ago, it was around year six of my former church, where we had been growing at over 30% per year when one spring we flatlined. That bothered me so I started investigating it. I asked questions. I looked at our marketing. Our series. Our services. Our members. What was going on in our community, etc. and nothing was shouting out, “This is the problem.”

So one day in our staff meeting, I asked my team, “So what do you think is causing us to be flatlined here this Spring?” I recounted all of the things I’d investigated and how they lead me to a null answer. Finally one of my staff members spoke up and said, “I think the problem might be you.”

I said, “Why do you think that?” Note: never be defensive when someone says you might be the problem. He said, “You’ve been burned out for the past month of so and I think you underestimate how much the rest of us draw our energy from you.”

I never would have seen that alone but he was right. That was the day I realized that as a leader, I could never be “down” when I was with my people. They needed me to be up because I infused them with the energy and morale they needed to work at their peak. Once I realized that, I changed and guess what, we got back on a growth curve. I was the problem.

So, what part of your stuck-ness do you own?

III. Challenge Assumptions

Whenever something isn’t working out right, it’s frequently caused because some assumption you’ve made in the past, isn’t as valid today. The common vernacular for that is, “What got you here won’t get you there.”

  • What got you your first hundred customers probably won’t get you your next hundred customers
  • What allowed you to lead a team of five probably won’t allow you to lead a team of twenty-five
  • The ad campaign that worked last year that brought in a drove of new customers probably won’t work as well this year

Every problem (including stuck-ness) has a set of assumptions underneath it. Now that you’re channeling your inner Spock and you’ve already owned up to your part of the problem, you should be able to see more clearly as to what the assumptions might be.

For example, maybe you’ve been doing most of the selling for your business and you just don’t have any more time available. The assumption is that you’re the best salesperson and no one else can sell your products/services as well as you can. Well, those two things could be true, but they might not be. Moreover, the assumption that the best salesperson is the “only” one who can sell your product/service is probably not valid. Three people who can close 80% of your prospects are better than one person who can close 100%.

Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of service professionals. The vast majority of them assume that almost all new business is best generated by referrals. And they’re right. In the professional services business, most new business is driven by referrals. However, referrals aren’t very scalable (vs. paid advertising, for example).

And more importantly, most stats aren’t great predictors of what should be done, only what people are currently doing (since the vast majority of service professionals only do two things for new clients, referrals and networking, the stats would bear that out—which says nothing about them being the best way to attract new prospects, only what people are doing).

Back in my old pastoral days, we drove a lot of our growth through direct mail. However, if you looked at most church surveys, 90+% of church growth was driven by referrals. Why? Was it because only referrals worked? No. It was because that’s all most churches did.

Remember that old line, “Foolishness is continuing to do what you’ve always done and expecting a different result.” Well, to get a different result, you need to engage in different behaviors. And to get a significantly different result, you need to engage in significantly different behaviors.

That will never happen if you don’t challenge your assumptions. One of my favorite games to play is the “Who says?” game. Who says this has to be done this way? Where stands it written that this activity must be done this way? Who says?

So, what assumptions underlie what’s holding you back? Remember, what got you to where you are probably won’t get you to the next level.

IV. Focus on Your Biggest Constraints

If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you know I’m a huge fan of constraint theory. But there’s also a practical reason for believing this. When you’re stuck and feeling overwhelmed, trying to solve too many problems all at once tends to be self-defeating. In other words, focusing on the few items (one to three) that can make the biggest impact, makes solving your stuck-ness infinitely more attainable.

In constraint theory, you’re looking at a system and realizing that while there are multiple problems hindering the flow through that system, there’s one constraint, more than any other constraint, that’s hindering the flow through that system. While you could devote your time, energy and resources toward attacking any of the hinderances, logically, it makes the most sense to focus on the one constraint that hinders the most flow through the system before attacking any of the other hindrances.

So, as you take a look at your stuck-ness, what are the biggest hindrances/constraints? Once you create a list, order that list from the biggest hindrances to the smallest.

Then, depending on who’s available to help solve/fix these issues, choose anywhere from one to three to attack this month. Once you do that, you’ll want to …

V. Create a 30-Day Sprint

If you haven’t picked up my guide on how to run a 30-Day Challenge, make sure you do so here >>. As you know, I’m a huge fan of sprints. They get everyone focused on the same project. They create energy and movement. And they get stuff done faster.

Using some of the issues we’ve discussed in this post, let’s assume your business is flatlined because you don’t have enough leads coming into your business. Historically, you’ve depended on referrals to generate new business because you’ve assumed that’s just the way people in your industry get new clients. And your biggest constraint is that you’re the single point of failure for generating new business though the goodwill of your past clients referring new clients to you. What could you do in this scenario.

Well here are a couple of options

  • You could create a 30-day sprint to book local speaking engagements, which could lead to an offer for a free something
  • You could create a 30-day sprint to advertise in Linkedin
  • You could create a 30-day sprint to advertise through FB ads (or Google PPC ads)
  • You could create a 30-day sprint to book webinar engagements (or create your own webinar series)
  • You could create a 30-day sprint to engage in a direct mail campaign to potential best buyers, etc.

You get the idea. The most important problem to solve here  is that you have a lead flow problem. Everything else is secondary. Don’t worry about those issues right now. To grow, you need lead flow. And you need that lead flow to come from more than you. Once you determine what you strategy is, you simply need to create a 30-day sprint to make sure you attack your biggest constraint with everything you’ve got.

Don’t try to solve every problem, just the biggest one you can with focused attention and a massive amount of effort. But remember, all of this action is based on challenging an assumption that’s been keeping you stuck.

So, what are you going to create your 30-day sprint around?

To recap, if you or your business are stuck (and you want to get unstuck), here are five things you can do starting this week to turn that around and get back on a growth curve.

  1. Channel your inner Spock
  2. Start with you
  3. Challenge assumptions
  4. Focus on your biggest constraints
  5. Create a 30-day sprint

If you do those five things right away, you have a high probability of getting unstuck and back on a growth curve. So, what are you waiting for?

To your accelerated success!

Bruce

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