“There is only one way to solve a problem – the right way” – Chris Ruisi, The Coach and Business Motivational Speaker of Choice


“Get the cows out of the creek” is an expression I first learned about when I read an article about Meg Whitman, the then CEO of E-Bay (and now the new CEO of HP). She used the expression to describe her approach to problem solving. This approach is based on a 3 step process once you have learned that you have a problem that must be dealt with – i.e. the cows are stuck in the creek and cannot get out.


Step 1 – first, get the cows out of the creek

Step 2 – determine how the cows got stuck in the creek in the first place, and

Step 3 – fix it so that the cows don’t get stuck in the creek again


Let’s discuss each of these steps and let me give you my take on the meaning and application of each:


Step 1 – First, Get the Cows Out of the Creek

The first step addresses what must be done to start to move back to some form of normalcy in your operations. Clearly, while the problem persists there will be a continued disruption of operations and services. Money (the company’s) is either being lost or wasted. Future revenues may be at risk. An initial plan must be developed and implemented to stop its effect and start the movement towards a solution to the problem. Get your team involved. Get their input, they are on the front line and have an upfront perspective. Put an initial plan in place to start collecting the facts; duties and accountabilities need to be assigned with short deadlines set. This is not the time to “rush” into implementing “any” solution. You want to get the right information so that your eventual and permanent solution is right on target.



Step 2 – Determine How the Cows Got into the Creek in the First Place

The first step in correctly solving a problem is to understand fully its root cause. If you’ve handled it correctly, Step 1 should have given you most of that needed information. During Step 2, you will know in detail what the cause or causes were. Was it a procedural or business systems issue? Was there no system in place or was the one already in place inadequate? Or, was it an employee related issue related to poor training? Did the employee really understand what was supposed to have been done? Did someone try to cover up the mistake to avoid blame? Maybe, it was a customer related issue? Was the customer given the right information? Did the customer not follow our instructions? There are many other questions that can and should be asked during Step 2. The eventual goal is to end up with a firm grasp and understanding of what caused the problem.


Step 3 – Fix it so that the Cows Don’t Get Stuck in the Creek Again

With steps 1 and 2 successfully behind you, it’s now time to focus on moving to a permanent fix so that the problem will not be repeated. This fix may involve a new system or procedure; a change in operations or employee training; a restructuring of duties within a department or between departments. Maybe it might involve hiring new team members with different skill sets than those that already exist among your team members. What you’ve learned as a result of the problem must also be reflected into your fix or solution. We learn from our mistakes so long as we make the deliberate effort to apply that new knowledge to our business world. This will make you, your team and your overall company stronger and better able to respond to the many new problems you will face in the future. A question I am often asked is “what is the best way to learn from our past experiences?” My immediate response is to “watch the game films”.  Watching the game films is a simple but highly effective process. Professional sports teams use this process daily and so can you. After a problem or “surprise event” ask yourself the following – “Based upon what we now know, if we had the chance to go through this experience again, what would we – – start doing; stop doing; do more of and do less of? I guarantee that if done correctly, this process will help you collect the right information to develop your permanent fix. Once you developed the fix, make certain that you include in your implementation of it comprehensive communications to your staff and, if applicable, to your customers so everyone understands what’s been done; why; how it effects them and how it will benefit them.


Bonus Step 4

Finally, before you close the book on this experience, be sure you give credit to your team for all of the “heavy lifting” they did to help you solve the problem. This is a critical last step that will pay you many dividends well into the future when you need that extra effort from your team again.

Chris Ruisi is an experienced executive/business coach as well as accomplished leadership/business motivational speaker.  Through this work, he has created a community of entrepreneurs, executives, and business leaders who understand the importance of Being Fearless; Stepping Up, and Playing Big. To learn more about Chris visit www.chrisruisi.com or email Chris at Chris@TheCoachsZone.com.
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