If you’re like most of us, you’re in the midst of a dead sprint into the holiday season, juggling professional commitments with personal obligations — and feeling like you’ve somehow been conscripted into a three-ring circus.

With the holidays just around the corner, I’d like to offer something that might speak a little calm into the chaos — both inner and outer.

There’s a method I use a ton with teams around problem solving, decision making, and assessment. (And it can even be applied to your personal life, too! More on that in my next post).

It’s known as the stop-start-keep method. 

With this method, you ask three questions:

  1. What’s working that we want to keep? 
  2. What’s not working that is harming us (or keeping us from our goal) that we want to stop? 
  3. What are we not yet doing that if we were to start doing would have the greatest positive impact? 

I like using this method with teams (and individuals, too) because it helps us to approach decision making with our future situation in mind. Stop-start-keep holds us accountable to the self-assessment we’re going to do about those decisions not too far down the road.

In a perfect world, all decision making would work like this. In reality, it’s quite the opposite.

One of my managerial pet peeves — and something that frustrates me to no end — is how often people make decisions and never go back to evaluate those decisions. It’s just decision after decision with no assessment.

In a team setting, here’s what this often looks like. 

A manager makes a decision and asks his team to do something as a result. Then he makes another decision and asks the team to do another thing. And another thing. And another thing. Rinse, repeat. But he never goes back to reflect and assess whether any of those decisions were good ones. 

Before long, the team’s plate is full and then over-full and overwhelming. Nobody is happy, and, at best, the company culture suffers as a result. Not good.

Here’s the thing to remember: A decision is neither finished nor deemable a good decision until it’s been assessed. You also need to decide at the outset when it’s the appropriate time to assess (A month out? Quarterly? Every six months?). Schedule the assessment and stick to it. It keeps you honest — and impresses the crap out of your team. 

Now, if you’re faced with a decision, ask yourself three things:

  1. Why am I making this decision, this way?
  2. What problem does it solve? 
  3. How am I going to measure success?

It’s best to determine NOW which core questions you’ll ask at evaluation time because right now, you have a clear head and a good understanding of what you’re aiming for. And — spoiler alert — you’re likely to approach the assessment from a less rational, more emotional, justification-driven place six months from now if you don’t set your goalposts now.

When it comes time for assessment, do your best to keep a level head (remember, predetermined evaluation criteria help a ton here). Decisions are rarely a wholesale failure or success but, instead, an iterative, evolutionary process. 

So ask, what is not working? Be honest, fair, and courageous with yourself (because hey, it seemed like the right idea a month ago!). Then, in the immortal words of Bob Newhart, “Stop It!Stop what’s not working. 

How are you doing against your goals on a scale of 1-10? What’s the gap? And what do you need to do going forward to close that gap and achieve your goal? Start that.

What is working? Whatever that is, keep it. 

I promise if you put this into practice, you will see results. 

Stay tuned for my next post on how the stop-start-keep method can also serve you in your personal life (especially during the holidays!). 

Season’s greetings, my friends.


Photo by Ian Taylor on Unsplash