inversion_techniqueEver heard of the inversion technique?

(No, I’m not talking about flipping a bucket of ice water over your head – we did that a few months ago!).

The inversion technique is a unique approach to problem-solving that starts with imagining worst-case scenarios – and then using those scenarios as the basis for developing solutions.

It’s similar to reverse-engineering, in that the process starts at the end (i.e., a disastrous outcome) and works backward toward to reveal problems, opportunities and potential solutions you might otherwise miss.

Here’s a simple example:

Say, for instance, you wanted to take up snowboarding. What would you need to know in order to snowboard safely down a treacherous mountain? Using the inversion technique, you’d imagine everything that could possibly go wrong once you started down the slope:

  • You could crash into a tree.
  • You could start (and be buried by) an avalanche.
  • You could lose control, fall off the board and lose it in the snow.

If one or more of these things happened, you might die. Yep, it’s a little depressing, but thinking through the worst possible outcomes helps you identify the things you need to do and know to snowboard safely, like:

  • Steering to avoid obstacles.
  • Learning how to fall properly.
  • Checking the avalanche report to make sure the slopes are safe before heading out.

Um, Vicki, this is great and all, but what does it have to do with staffing or customer service?

Glad you asked. Now that you understand the technique, you can use it to think differently about your services. For example, you can use the inversion technique to:

  1. Reveal problems you didn’t know you had. Make a list of potential nightmare customer service scenarios. For each, identify what would have to go wrong with your process to create the situation. Then, examine your existing service process through this lens to identify potential weaknesses.
  2. Find new opportunities. Stay on top of the trends in the economy, your niche and the employment market in the geographies you serve. Brainstorm the possible “disastrous” conditions these could lead to for clients, as well as the service opportunities they could create for your staffing firm.
  3. Solve customers’ problems. Have a client with a real-life disaster already in progress? Then they’ve completed the first step of the inversion technique for you. Sit down with them to list the underlying reasons for the problem they’re experiencing (e.g., process bottlenecks, interviewing pitfalls, poorly matched candidates, etc.). Then, determine what you both can do to remedy the situation. And if it turns out that your client really needs something that’s outside the scope of your abilities, it’s okay. Your client will appreciate your assistance, honesty and insights (and that goodwill will come back to you).

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