A simple formula for (sales) meetings

October 10, 2013

Sherry works in the production department of a large paper. She told me about the special formula they frequently use in meetings that are intended to evaluate procedures. The meetings are based on three simple questions: (1) What should we start doing? (2) What should we stop doing? And (3) What should we continue?

“I don’t know the origin of the formula,” Sherry said, “because it was being used before I arrived. Like so many other techniques, the beauty is in its simplicity. We begin by posting three sheets of flip-chart paper on the wall. One is labeled ‘start,’ one is labeled ‘stop,’ and one is labeled ‘continue.’ We focus on a specific issue and list ideas in each category. It’s natural to bounce back and forth between the categories. One idea leads to another, sometimes on a different sheet.”

Let’s take a look at the three questions:

1. What do we need to start doing? “In an industry that is changing faster than ever before, this forces us to think beyond the way we’re currently doing things,” Sherry said. “It also gives us permission to consider ideas we’ve heard about. We talk to people at newspaper conferences—and sometimes we call other papers—to ask how they approach certain problems. Why reinvent the wheel, when we can learn from others?

“We write down the ideas and analyze each one. What might work? What are the steps to implementation? How could we propose it to management?”

2. What do we need to stop doing? “This reminds me of the story about the lady who cut the ends off a ham before putting it in the oven,” Sherry said. “A friend asked why, and she said her mother had always done that. The conversation motivated her to investigate and she learned that her mother did it because her mother had done it. Then she asked her grandmother about it and learned that the ends were trimmed to fit in her grandmother’s small oven.

“Nothing is off-limits in our meetings,” Sherry explained. “We can’t afford to keep doing certain things because they’ve always been done.”

3. What should we continue? “Of course we have to adapt to stay ahead, but change just for the sake of change is not a good thing,” Sherry said. “Some processes work fine—and we want to keep doing those things.”

I believe Sherry’s technique can be used in a lot of departmental meetings—including advertising. Think of all the time that is wasted by sitting around the table trying to answer the vague question, “What should we try to change around here?” Wouldn’t it be better to focus everyone’s attention on these three specific areas?

“Not all of our meetings produce groundbreaking ideas,” Sherry said. “But these three questions have helped us focus our attention on how to put out a better product. We don’t care who comes up with the ideas. All we care about is results.”

Results. That sounds like a pretty good reason to try this technique. © John Foust 2013. All rights reserved.


John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. E-mail for information: john@johnfoust.com.

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