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The why, what, how, when & where
The why, what, how, when & where
Life doesn’t always need a framework. Actually, in most cases, implementing one equals artificiality and an approach that is very formal. This is associated more with corporates, heavy industry or science where doing things ‘by the book’ is most common.
These were also my initial thoughts when I first heard of F.U.E.L. during a workshop in New York led by Jason Gore and Michael Costuros from Neuberg Gore & Associates. I was skeptical, also through first practical conversations done using this conversational framework.
It all changed once I’ve seen that it actually works, and it works great. Since then, as a management Team, we have used it on many occasions for challenging discussions.
While it’s not enough just to ‘read’ about the F.U.E.L. method to really feel it, as you need practice, I decided to write this article for you to get a general understanding of what F.U.E.L. consists of. I hope that with this knowledge you’d like to explore more. I’m also happy to help you & your Team, in the form of a workshop, to implement this way of thinking in your organization.
F.U.E.L. is an abbreviation for Framing conversation, Understanding each-other, Exploring options and Leading to commitments. In order to solve your challenge effectively, complete a difficult discussion, you should follow 4 steps of this process.
You start with Framing the conversation. Name precisely what is the reason and goal for the conversation. Make sure all participants understand it, write it down. It’s especially important as people naturally tend to digress from a topic. Having the ‘frame’ in place helps getting back on track.
Once you agree exactly what is it that you’re discussing, try your best to Understand each others’ worlds. It’s essential for finding a solution later on, but before you jump to any conclusions, you need the deeper understanding first. You know your point of view well, so here focus ONLY on doing all you possibly can to understand how others feel.
Once you believe that the ‘worlds are understood’, you’re moving to Exploring options. Key here is that you’re still in the ‘exploration’ mode, not ‘problem solving by propositions’. Use phrases like “What would you say about if we solve this by X” rather than “Ok, so I see that X is a great solution”. Be open, stay curious, paraphrase for mutual understanding.
Once you have explored available options, be sure to Lead to commitments. End the meeting with a clear WHO, WHAT, by WHEN and write these down. Think that a commitment not agreed to and written down is never a hard commitment. It’s a soft commitment that may be hard to follow in time.
There is a very useful handout prepared and made available by the Neuberg Gore & Associates that takes you step by step through the F.U.E.L. method depending on the context of the situation you’re using it in.
With this help, and a bit of practice, you can use F.U.E.L. for
It’s one of the most powerful management tools I’ve ever used. Master it, practice, learn and pay it forward. Once you’ve used it a few times, you’ll soon realize how meaningful and effective your challenging conversations will become.
Happy to hear your thoughts on this idea, please share them ideally under this LinkedIn article.
Founder of SaunaGrow.com
We meet in a Sauna and Talk Business.
PS I could not resist. The real FUEL ;)
Inspired by people I talk with during SaunaGrow meetings and followed by personal experience of how hard it is to let people go, I’ve decided to share with you thoughts on Managing People Out.
Some time ago, I had a chance to spend a few days with Jason & Michael on a leadership workshop in New York. That’s where I first came across the F.U.E.L. way of providing feedback and solving tough situations in a Team. While I’ve focused on F.U.E.L. in another article, during the course of this workshop we came across a very interesting process called “Managing People Out”. F.U.E.L. and Managing People Out overlap on many levels, that mentioning the two together is not a coincidence.
It’s now two years after this workshop and having seen both the “Managing People Out” done quite a few times and having practised this approach myself, I now know for sure it’s valuable and I want to pass it forward. Here it goes.
In every growing organisation there is strong pressure both on growth and on utilising all the company’s resources to its best. Resources are often used for getting & keeping the best people on board. Having said that, it often happens that someone hired in January may no longer be best for the role in December. It’s not a bad hire, and it doesn’t always mean that person got worse. For super-fast growing organizations it may simply be a sign of a situation that the role has outgrown the specific person. Example: HR Manager of a 100 people organisation may have the same title, but a totally different role as a HR Manager in a 300 people company.
The result of that change of expectations, where ability and skills do not follow needs, is often devastating for the individual, the Team and the company as a whole. Low performers are dragging a company down and demotivate the rest of the Team. As much as it’s never too early to let someone go, it’s a very natural thing that this process is unpleasant and is often delayed. Why is it so? There are a number of reasons. Starting from a fear of changing something, risking the breaking of the established Team’s spirit, disrupting the company’s operations and last but not least: people are generally good, and no one likes hurting people.
That, however, is often a wrong perception of the reality. By allowing a low performer to stay with the Team we’re hurting both the Team and the individual more than by letting them go. I am far away from the old-style corporate approach urging to always fire 10% of the least performing staff, as this is damaging for people’s motivation, dignity and engages them in a rat race. Yet in many situations more empathetic managers are too soft when it comes to evaluating the work of others and providing negative feedback on time. I’ve been there myself and have made the mistake of letting people go too late, without a proper feedback process in place. I hope I am wiser now and that you’ll learn from my mistakes.
As much as letting people go is almost always hard, with the approach shown by Jason Gore in the Managing People Out process, it’s much more healthy and… humane. In a nutshell, here are the steps you should follow:
It’s worth noticing that the described approach should not be used when you need to reduce your cash burn rapidly. This is an ongoing process that needs to be executed constantly to maintain a highly performing Team.
Also note that this process only works if you can assume positive intent and truly believe that there is a chance of serious improvement. If deep inside you don’t believe in it, you’re likely to lose a lot of your time. The sooner you kickstart this process, the better for the individual, you and the Team.
It all might sound quite obvious, but hopefully, having read this article and heard the short podcast from Jason, you’ll begin to do this intentionally and not just intuitively.
Be good, value your Team, help everyone on the Team to grow. Inside or outside of your organization. It’s your duty as a leader and a good manager.
Founder of SaunaGrow.com and exCEO of AirHelp Poland
Can you think of a cooler trend in business recently than AI, ML and generally: automation? Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and all types of ‘big scaling’ is something that seems to be a vital part of the ‘pitching bingo’. Most startups are proud to be including these while trying to convince investors to join their projects.
Recently I’ve heard a great summary of these actions. How to differentiate machine learning from artificial intelligence? Well, apparently if it’s written in Python it’s ML, when it’s AI, then it’s done in Power Point. I love this comparison, as it shows how artificial it is and how little ‘junior entrepreneurs’ know about when to automate their businesses. In other words, in most of the cases AI still exists only in Power Point presentations and it’s the machine learning that barely starts it way up in the daily reality. More on that below.
There is a good (audio)book that is worth your consideration when it comes to choosing the right moment for automation and scaling. It’s “Nail It Then Scale It” by Nathan Furr & Paul Ahlstrom. Dive deeper when you have a moment.
In simple terms, real AI is something most businesses will still not need within the next decade nor would it be financially efficient to be investing in that field. When it comes to ML, a ‘machine’ usually takes a lot, a lot of data in order to ‘learn’ its ways to help in process automation. By ‘a lot of data’ I don’t mean tens and hundreds of records of data, but hundreds of thousands and more. For the majority of businesses, this will take years to gain enough data to be even thinking about the proper use of ML.
Having said that, there is much you can do in between. Believe it or not, there used to be business before artificial intelligence and machine learning. I am not talking only about pure human intelligence, but also about the algorithms and process optimizations that can be done much cheaper, quicker and in a more financially effective way.
While meeting my clients via SaunaGrow.com (yes, in a sauna) or while listening to startup pitches as an investor at BlackPearls.vc I often observe the same scenario. The Team that has merely started its business and is in a very early stage wants to scale up their business through AI, ML and automations. Much too soon. Why?
There are few major reasons why you should not consider automation (or its higher forms) too early.
There is of course a point at which the scale of your business will justify automation, but in most cases, that moment is further than you initially think. As an example – at AirHelp most of our processes were very manual even when we were serving 3k customer enquiries a month. It started to be useful to automate at the level of 10-50k customers and became essential only after reaching the goal of 100k customer enquiries a month. Now, having helped over 14M air passengers, the company’s processes are very much automated. Today even with c.a. 100 product & tech specialists on board, it’s still not always so obvious which part of the process should be automated next.
In the initial years it was way easier and more effective (time & money) to increase the size of a Customer Service Team. That has given us more data and opportunities to realize what parts of the process are the real bottle necks and require automation in the first place. The priorities here were changing pretty much every quarter as we got wiser as a Team. For that to work well, you need the best people in place. At AirHelp, that would not have been possible if it were not for Natalia Laskowska – best VP of Operations ever. Her knowledge of the processes and ability to build a great Team is best in class and has helped the company grow in the right direction at an amazing speed. I’ll touch on the people element of automation and growing business in a separate article, as it definitely requires dedicated attention.
To sum it up. Learn from this process. Whenever you think of automation, consider the cost of that process and the alternative cost. Can’t you use your IT resources better and in the meantime deal with increased manual workload in a more efficient way? Make a simple business case whenever you’re about to add a new ‘automation task’ on your roadmap. Delay tech driven automation without stopping process optimization.
Founder at SaunaGrow.com, exCEO of AirHelp Poland.
Let’s meet in a sauna to talk business.