This time of year, many different business-related emotions can arise. These emotions can run the gamut from feeling like we can conquer the world in this fresh new beginning of 2018 to questioning why we went into business in the first place since we still haven’t accomplished our goals and dreams.

I don’t know exactly where you are in your business development cycle, but I do know there are certain timeless tools, strategies, and exercises that create clarity and action plans effectively (regardless of company size). I’ve personally facilitated the exercise I’m sharing with you today for many of my clients, including the largest hotel franchise company in the world, my own plumbing company, our clients at the Blue Collar Success Group and frontline technicians. The exercise is called “Start, Stop, Continue,” and I’ve seen it make a positive impact each time it’s facilitated correctly.

Getting clarity around these three concepts (start, stop and continue) will change the course of your business growth. We have never used a tool with our clients that has so effectively drawn out the truth that only they can know about their own company, vision, team and culture.

Framing the exercise is very important to the level of success and opportunity derived from this activity. The better a safe environment is created for the sharing portions by all team members (including owners and managers), the better the information will be brought to the table in an objective and fair manner.

We also must manage the framework based on which activities we focus on first. We will address all three behaviors and tasks that we want to start doing, stop doing or make certain we continue doing. However, where we focus first matters to the flow of information and team member willingness to share openly.


The exercise

Based on the size of your group, this exercise can be done on one sheet of paper face-to-face, or on flip-chart paper on the walls in the meeting room. I’ll explain it based on the flip-chart style of facilitation.

Depending on the size of your group, you will want to break them up into smaller groups of five or six team members. Have a random way of putting the groups together so you can keep buddies from inevitably being in the same group.

Have each group hang three sheets of flip-chart paper side-by-side portrait-style on the wall. Title one of the sheets “Start,” one “Stop,” and one “Continue” in bold marker. Everyone in the room should have a marker they can use personally. Different-colored markers are preferable.

Instruct each group that they will start with the “Continue” sheet and begin brainstorming and capturing all of the things we absolutely want to keep doing as we create plans for change and improvement in the upcoming year. Focusing on what is to be continued sets the stage immediately that they are already doing a lot of things really well. This positive mindset is paramount to start with because the feelings can be more negative when initially looking at what must be stopped or started in order to be successful.

Begin playing upbeat music fairly loudly to facilitate fun and create energy and excitement. Have them all write in their own markers and their own words everything they can think of that makes sense for this company to keep doing. We see everything from “keep bringing in lunch for the office on Friday” to “continue the family culture where people truly care.” The point is not exactly what is offered up on the sheet, but more about the fact that the team is coming up with this on their own.

Once you get through a few minutes and each team has several items written down, lower the music for further instructions and have the groups now move on to the “Start” sheet. They can also still add things to the “Continue” sheet, but only the “Start” and “Continue” are to be dealt with in this round. Model the same activity you did for “Start” just like you did for “Continue.” Make sure everyone is participating, the energy is high and the information is flowing.

Upon completion of that round, you will then move to the “Stop” sheet. This is where things can get a little challenging based on culture and team mindset. However, since we’ve been focusing on what we’re going to keep doing and some cool things we’d like to start doing, we have a pretty good positive vibe in the room by the time we get to “Stop.”

Just like the previous two rounds, have them write all the things they’d like to stop regarding their position, company offerings, structure, etc. Keep the energy up; don’t worry about judgment of how or why — or even if — you will stop any of the things that are brought up. This is a great way to know what they might feel is pure ignorance regarding some of your processes and procedures. They will also vent some things they know can’t be stopped right now or that make sense the big picture, but they still don’t like the task. Paperwork (or now digital paperwork) almost always hits this list.

The key to facilitating a successful Start-Stop-Continue exercise is to remain objective, playful and non-judgmental, and don’t take things personally. I have never facilitated this exercise for one of my own companies where I haven’t struggled seeing some of the things that show up on these three sheets.

You think to yourself: “Really? How can they think like that? Where have we gone wrong with communication and leadership? Blah, blah, blah.” Once I accept without judgment that these are their true feelings, whether I agree with them or not, I can remove my ego and get to a place where I can create improvement or understanding.

The other crucial thing to remember is that they feel how they feel, whether you know about it or not. Through this exercise, we have just created a platform of communication for you to know and understand their true feelings about the company and its process and direction. Many leaders want to operate with an “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy where they are silently hoping things will improve, communication will magically happen and everyone will live happily ever after. Don’t let this be you.

After you complete this exercise, you will have a massive amount of information to digest and process. You will want to keep all the flip charts. Review them in private with your leadership team. Decide what makes sense, what stays, what goes and what gets started. Schedule another company-wide team meeting to share the results, the plan, the dates and the progress desired.

Your team knows you can’t snap your fingers and make everything perfect. However, when you create a culture of safe and open communication, your company changes. Your life changes. Your goals begin materializing, and you have a lot more fun on the adventure of building your perfect business.