Is that it might be the wrong one.

Ten or so years ago, when I worked for Boots the Chemists, the new CEO, Steve Russell, had the answer to the pharmacy chain’s loss of share to the grocers. He decided that Boots should develop and offer a suite of wellbeing services – from gyms and spas through to dentistry services. That way, the grocers would find it much harder to compete.

Although many in the business questioned Steve’s ‘wellbeing strategy’, the CEO was able to get his own way and these new businesses were developed and rolled out.

Unfortunately, the business didn’t have the skills and capabilities in these areas and none of the services made a profit. Two years later after burning £millions of investment, Steve was replaced with a new CEO.

If you already have ‘the answer’ your mindset is focused on building a case to support it, rather than seeking to understand whether it is the best answer. For many smaller, less important decisions, this doesn’t matter too much. But when you’re betting the company’s future on your answer – as Steve Russell did at Boots – you need to make sure that you’re taking a far more measured approach.

Here are seven ways you can ensure that you don’t just have ‘the answer’:

  1. Develop specific investment criteria that any new initiative must meet before receiving funding;
  2. Demand that a range of alternatives are generated and assessed, not just a single solution;
  3. Create a separate committee or group that are not connected with the ongoing business to review and assess the alternatives;
  4. Ask some objective, external experts to review your ideas and provide honest feedback on them;
  5. Stage-gate your decisions. Don’t just jump to roll-out but create a series of decision points that provide incremental funding, each with their own performance criteria (e.g. prototype, trial, stage 1 roll-out etc.);
  6. Appoint a ‘No’ team, whose role is to identify all the flaws and weaknesses of ‘the answer’; and
  7. Realise that there is no such thing as an objective view. Write down all your assumptions and beliefs on a particular issue or solution, and get a trusted mentor to provide challenge on them.

What do you do to avoid the problem of already having ‘the answer’?

© Stuart Cross 2012. All rights reserved.