It never feels like the right time to address a challenge. This is why you need to learn to take its temperature and change it. You want every challenge you are facing to be a just-right challenge. The just-right challenge is when everyone on the team feels that there is a problem, and you have enough time to leverage your capabilities and brand to deliver a solution only you can deliver. When solving the problem will not just bring you in line with competitors but set you up to lead into the future. The problem is that it is hard to see the sweet spot until it is in the rearview mirror.
A Freezing Challenge:
You might know it is coming, but the rest of your organization is blind to it. It might just be a speck on your horizon. Someday, someone is going to have to deal with it. Will it be you? Maaaaybe, but you are not sure and it isn’t an OKR, so let’s leave it for someone else. Also, who knows what will happen when it hits?
Types of Freezing Challenges:
- Demographics. While everyone may be asking how to create Gen Z strategies (the always-looming challenge of the next generation), is solving for that today going to improve quarterly performance? Things like aging population, increased youth spending power, and the intergender (because men die first) and intergenerational wealth transfer all tend to be freezing challenges.
- Technology Shifts. You hear about them on LinkedIn and at conferences: cloud, metaverse, autonomous cars, etc. Vendors will tell you that you will need to transform your business. You know it’s 50% true, but the revenue vs. cost just doesn’t make sense right now.
A Boiling Challenge:
You need to solve a boiling challenge to get back to your day job. Should you have started sooner or seen it coming? Probably, but who has time to figure out who to blame when putting out a fire? These are the challenges that burn out you and your team. They’re the kind that make you stare out the window and wish to go back to thinking out years instead of days.
Types of Boiling Challenges:
- Competitive Action. Someone in your market does something you have been thinking about doing—but does it first. You could have done it better but you need to get that response out now so you will be at parity, at best.
- Executive Mandate. Do you think you have a boiling challenge? Maybe not, but your boss does. “We NEED a metaverse strategy!” or “Pls fix” are all hallmarks of someone else’s challenge becoming your challenge.
- Global Discontinuity. Covid, global warming (actual boiling challenge), supply chains—these are freezing challenges that become boiling before you even expect it. These discontinuous moments are hard but not impossible to see coming if you have a well-trained “futures” muscle.
The Just-Right Challenge:
This is the sweet spot for change. To be honest, it is rare. Some of the common objections to solving a just-right challenge are perfectly valid. But others, you can work around. Common objections include:
- “We need to update our systems first.”
- “We don’t have the right person in the role yet. Let’s wait till we hire.”
- “We don’t lead, we are a fast follow.”
The just-right challenge is when everyone on the team feels that there is a problem, and you have enough time to leverage your capabilities and brand to deliver a solution only you can deliver. When solving the problem will not just bring you in line with competitors but set you up to lead into the future. The problem is that it is hard to see the sweet spot until it is in the rearview mirror. This is why you need to learn to change the challenge temperature.
Heating Up or Cooling Down a Challenge
Accomplishing either of these is not easy. They will not happen overnight, and they may require some frustrating conversations. Your colleagues will hate you, love you, hate you and then love you again. They will hate you for creating another problem, love you for offering to solve it, hate you when they learn they are part of the solution and then down the road, love you for putting the organization on the right track for growth.
Heating Up a Challenge
This is all about storytelling. When we talk about challenge, we often talk about the costs and damages. Lead with what bleeds. You know your organization best, but oftentimes, in a professional context, that results in heads in the sand. Instead, lead with opportunity.
Here is a checklist for how to heat up a challenge:
- Do you spend more time talking about the opportunity created by change than the threat of it?
- Do you have actionable plans?
- Have you ranked your plans from mild to wild?
- Have you identified a “no lose” next step that allows you to learn about the change? Have you demonstrated its importance to your organization?
- Have you brought snacks to the meeting?
If you can say yes to all of these, you are ready to crank that thermostat!
Cooling Down a Challenge
Sometimes you can’t cool down a challenge. People find chicken heads in their burgers. The world gets hit by asteroids. There’s no convincing anyone that these are not immediate problems. When you think you can cool down a challenge, the key activity is problem framing.
Common investigatory questions to help frame a problem include:
- Who is this a problem for? Who does it affect most significantly?
- How big a problem is it really?
- What happens if we miss the deadline? Does anyone die?
- What are the costs of slowing this down? What are the advantages?
- Have we ever misjudged something similar?
Hopefully you are now a regular weather wizard! If you need help heating up a challenge or are in that sweet spot where you are ready for a strategic reframe, get in touch or book a call and let’s chat.