When looking for wisdom avoid the “fast-thinking” trap, ask “slow-thinking” questions

Ask good questions and generate intelligent insights.

The biggest revelation we had from the last 10 years of hosting online crowdsource dialogues (1) with employees for organisations is that a single word in a good question can make all the difference!

When there are 100 people online for one hour, a badly posed question would waste 700 valuable brain-minutes and an opportunity to learn would be lost. On the other hand, posing good questions generates energy, stimulating all participants to join the conversation. A good question touches hearts and minds. Most importantly a good question uncovers valuable actionable insights and creates highly engaged participants.

Key to formulating a good question is knowing what you are looking for. What type of answers are useful and valuable? What type of thinking do you want to promote with respondents? When you are looking for wisdom you need to ask “slow-thinking” questions.

Avoid the “fast-thinking” trap.

We all intuitively know that there are two types of questions, those that are easy to answer and those that require you to think and reflect before answering. Nobel prize winner, Daniel Kahneman pointed out in his seminal work, Thinking Fast and Slow, that people use two types of brains to answer a question. First there is the more primitive reflex brain that stimulates “fast-thinking”. It is superfast, thinks instantly and operates from the here and now. It uses instinct, patterns, biases and analogies. This reflex brain is a great engine we use all the time to find quick answers to day to day questions such as “can I cross the street now?”. The other is the reflecting brain. This is “slow-thinking” and needs to be prompted and activated. It helps us to think thoroughly, more in the abstract and systemically. We probably all recognise situations where we needed to create the conditions – white space, a shower, a walk – to concentrate so as to be able to think something through. This is when you want to tap into the deep slow-thinking capacity of your reflecting brain

Daniel Kahneman points out that human brains are fundamentally lazy and prefer using their fast reflex brain to quickly answer questions. This means that when hearing a question, the fast brain tends to take over and formulate an answer. On top of that, as he explains, the fast brain is prone to many biases. If you are seeking wisdom or profound advice from a person or group of people, your question needs to trigger their slow-thinking (reflective) brain. Remember the slow-thinking brain is lazy and will only start the deep thinking if prompted. So, when you are seeking wisdom avoid the fast-thinking trap. and formulate slow-thinking questions

Slow-thinking-questions vs. fast-thinking-questions

The image below helps to understand the difference slow-thinking-questions and fast-thinking-questions. All questions seek feedback on the value of a conference participation. The specific formulation of each questions on the left triggers a different thinking and emotional process illustrated to the right. See how more slow-thinking triggering questions (lower left) induce deeper thinking, stimulating the reflecting brain.

  1. Asking a fast brain question like, “How satisfied are you about conference X?” will induce the fast brain to instantly collect a quick answer by collecting reflexes and feelings of joy or boredom. The fast brain will generate an answer to: “Did I like this conference?” It’s a quick, top of mind answer.
  2. Asking a slow brain question such as “What did you learn at conference X?” will request the slow brain to start working: one has to remember what information was shared, compare this with their current knowledge, evaluate the new information and its value, and make a conclusion. This is a very different thinking journey!

Asking slow thinking questions cannot happen without creating the right environment. One where there is:

  • a safe space to speak up
  • an enquirer who is respectful and sincerely interested
  • a question phrased to give energy and fit into the flow of the dialogue.

Knowing what type of outcome you looking for determines the choice between a slow or a fast-thinking question. Are “top of mind perceptions” valuable or do you want to get deeper wisdom?

You can easily test the slow or fast thinking level of your question by answering it yourself. You will discover if you are using the instant “fast-thinking” or need more time using the “slow-thinking” part of your brain.

Watch Joanne talking about asking the right question in this video:

Post by Joanne Celens and Susan Anglin

Joanne Celens (left) is the CEO of Synthetron. Joanne studied business (KULeuven) and International studies at Johns Hopkins University. Contact Joanne at joanne.celens@synthetron.com

Susan Anglin (right) is a Consultant for Synthetron Canada. Susan has earned her MBA and the PMP designation (Professional Project Manager). Contact Susan at susan.anglin@synthetron.com

This post was first published by Bob Tiede on his blog – https://leadingwithquestions.com/blog/

Synthetron helps leaders and managers to engage and get answers to important questions by facilitating moments of meaningful and efficient 1 hour online dialogue with employees /stakeholder groups.

How do we do it?


People often ask us “So what actually happens in a Synthetron discussion?”

Watch our short animationfor an overview of how a Synthetron online dialogue works.

Using our unique discussion software, we set up and run a 1-hour online, anonymous discussion.
During the moderated discussion, the people you have invited will discuss your topics based on a script we have developed together to question key aspects of your issue. They can comment, exchange and validate opinions and develop winning ideas via a structured process on a real-time basis, from their own computer or tablet.
The diagram below shows the screen as participants will experience it.




The Synthetron tool allows insights to surface – the group decides what is important regardless of peer pressure, social concerns or politics. And this constructive listening to large and dispersed groups breaks the old paradigm of communications being a one way street or just for the elite. Why not harness the expertise and experience of everybody who can contribute? Our clients often comment that from these focused one hour discussions they learn far more than they expected – and as a bonus motivate and engage all those invited.

After a session, you get a quick report within 2 days with top level results:  number of participants, activity levels and a list of the most supported statements of the group.
Within 2 weeks you will get a complete analysis on the heart of the discussion – what opinions the group have, what ideas have been co-created, what really matters to them.
Click here to have a look at some examples of the rich insights clients get from this process.

Sick of work-stress?

An increasing problem

A recent article shows that work-stress related sickness increased from 55% to 68% last year in the UK. This situation that is likely to be reflected around the world as companies react to the pressure to perform in an increasingly competitive and uncertain world.

Of course this is not without its costs for business. It accounts for around half of all absences and exhaustion makes it hard for employees contribute fully when they are at work. Safety can also be compromised, with accidents more likely to happen when the workforce are tired or disengaged. In our Synthetron MindSet analysis across all the dialogues we run each year, we see more people in a ‘victim’ state – feeling stuck, unable to think creatively or be proactive. A healthy organisation needs its employees to be resilient and in a constructive frame of mind. Not just hanging on in there.

Causes of stress

More than ever in the last years, we saw unhealthy work-stress cropping up in Synthetron discussions. Whatever the sector or topic. In particular employees cite the ‘always on’ culture as problematic. Even their leisure time is no longer relaxing. We have seen evidence that it hits carers (still primarily women) even harder as they try to give children and elderly relatives the attention they need while they are at home – but still have to deal with incoming texts and emails.

Other causes reflect the way business is done these days. They include out of date and cumbersome processes, unnecessary bureaucracy and poor or inconclusive decision making.

In terms of leadership, we are most likely to see concerns that middle managers don’t appreciate staff enough (a thoughtful thank you can go a long way). Senior managers are often seen as disconnected from reality therefore likely to set unrealistic targets.

So what can employers do?

Some companies have taken strong measures to tackle work-stress. Porsche recently joined the swathe of companies considering the introduction of a ban on out of hours emails (see The Daily Telegraph article for more details). And in 2017 the French government pledged to introduce a new law guaranteeing employees the ‘right to disconnect’.

These top down measures are important because they change the nature of the discussion. Like early challenges of unequal pay or unconscious bias they help everybody realise this is a real issue that needs to be considered. Just as important though is to understand what your employees think. Every workplace is different so why not discover the views of your own people in the context of your industry, location and work culture? A largely millennial workforce might be much more comfortable with a blurred work-home-life boundary than one with an older or more traditional employee profile. Though studies seem to find minimal differences between millennials and other generations (see HBR article).

The research can also be a positive intervention

In almost every Synthetron discussion we see this victim state diminish significantly in the course of the one hour discussion. It is a rare opportunity to be able to express your point of view for an hour, free from interruptions or unwanted consequences. In an anonymous space, safe from judgement or mockery. We see some venting on work-stress of course, and then we manage the conversation so that participants don’t get stuck in a moan-fest. But we nearly always see a strong recovery once employees are engaged with the idea that they can contribute to solving the problem. We give our clients a list of the biggest problems and the strongest ideas to tackle them. Just being asked is empowering, being listened to is encouraging and sharing ideas is motivating.

Check out how we can help you with employee engagement or browse our case studies on the subject

The Grumpy Ones

Our team leader in New York, Graham Bobby, is a Brit who maintains a private blog. 
Here is a link  to a recent entry on the subject of employee satisfaction.

This blog offers a personal take on the discussion of what employers have a right to expect from their staff in terms of mood and attitude. Most would accept that affability was a reasonable requirement for customer facing staff, but there is a case to be made for a positive attitude to be expected from all staff.

grumpy person

It is one thing to expect a positive attitude and to recruit based on that expectation, but companies can also help themselves by taking actions to create a positive atmosphere, and here many fail. Bullying, hypocrisy and poor role modelling all contribute to poor employee satisfaction; some leaders also lazily assume that staff will share their own preferences. Many use engagement surveys, but these can be superficial and employees in many firms have become cynical after years of surveys followed by no meaningful action.

Satisfaction drives mood and attitude, and improving satisfaction offers significant business benefits. So there is real value in really listening to staff, and at a granular level. Synthetron offers a proven, cost-effective way to achieve this.

Full article here: http://grahambobby.blogspot.be/2016/10/the-grumpy-ones.html

Synthetron works with the crowd at CSW Global

Synthetron works with the crowd at CSW Global

Synthetron CEO Joanne Celens caught audience’ interest as she addressed the tricky topic of how to make sure crowds are wise not foolish.


info chart


The group that came along to the follow-up workshop were intrigued to hear us say that the 6 C’s model of Employee Engagement wasn’t our own idea. We explained that like all Synthetron conclusions it was based on our grounded theory approach – using what we have heard from thousands of employees over the last few years.

We know what things matter because we have heard them over and over again.

Click here to see the model, which is work in progress we are happy to share, and see how your last employee engagement scored against this crowdsourced checklist. Maybe you are ready to try a new approach and level up your employee engagement to improve your score – and of course your organizational effectiveness since that is always the end goal. We’d love to discuss that with you!

Contact Us

Click here to watch our CEO Joanne Celens talk about “how to make sure you get the wisdom from your crowd”

Continuity AND Transformation

Continuity AND Transformation

How to nurture the mindset for change

We might be said to be creatures of habit. But that doesn’t mean we always avoid change. In fact, change is part of our daily life. The most important aspect of implementing change in an organisation is to take the temperature first. How do the organisation’s stakeholders, including its staff and customers feel? One can then look for effective methodologies and focus on the key element of change – the people.

Major changes to one’s environment (e.g. changes to roles/processes/systems/incentives/etc.) can cause people to feel/think that they are no longer “in control”. Also, people fear loss when their environment changes (including potentially losing established work relationships with co-workers when roles and/or processes change).The more people can feel in control, the less resistance the change program is likely to encounter. This is where engagement via honest two-way-communication comes into play.


Based on many studies and our own experience we know that generally people want to change, to improve. However, in companies change projects often assume that something is wrong with the company and employees. It can be more productive to notice what is currently working (continuity) at the outset of the change effort. Honoring the past (success, achievements, structure) and present (what is working now), as well as identifying further improvements to what is already good can boost efforts. We can forget that change does not mean things are bad (although that’s usually the case). Improvement might be from bad to good, but it can also be from good to better. Nurturing the mindset for change – building willingness rather than resistance – can be a more successful approach. We call this the interdependent values of Continuity AND Transformation.

It is key in this approach to open a space to identify the emotional issues – what is it that people expect to lose and why do they think this happening? It is a vital reality check – even if there are overreactions. Asking people shows trust and opens an opportunity to understand the benefits of the future as they see it so this can be used to persuade them.

Typically four levers for change can be assessed:

  1. Do people understand the change? Is the case for change clear and compelling? Does it stand up to scrutiny?
  2. Do people like it? Do they trust it? Does it make sense and is it the right thing to do?
  3. Can people act on it? What tools, processes, systems etc. are necessary for them to act?
  4. How much do people want to act? How is the environment, momentum and appetite for change?

Helping people “believe” should always be a key step in this process. Not a note from the CEO to staff saying that something is changing and definitely not any kind of coercion, but an open and honest involvement to encourage people to be part of the change journey. With the Synthetron approach for diagnostics we assure our clients get to the real issues quicker. That’s not to say that everyone will be on board or that it is easy. Those resisting the change effort must be engaged in the effort as deeply as the typical change agents.

The fact remains that more than a few senior managers and those who might describe themselves as leaders are reticent about change – because it is a threat to their domains and comfort zones. Finding ways to work with this is part of the challenge of business.

Klaus-Michael Erben, Executive Germany 

Crowdsourcing Intelligence: Do Intelligent Questions create Intelligent Crowds?

Asking questions

Crowdsourcing Intelligence:
Do Intelligent Questions create Intelligent Crowds?

During the Crowdsourcing week conference in Brussels, our CEO Joanne Celens answered the question: do intelligent questions create intelligent crowds? Watch it here.

The talk has been split up in 3 parts below:

1: Crowdsourcing is in our DNA but there are pitfalls and biases to think of

2: Get the right crowd through the right process

3: Ask the right question with the right attitude

sign up to our newsletter for more news on crowdsourcing

A leadership style focusing on strict KPIs can undermine intra-company cooperation

Business culture should emphasize autonomy to empower people.

Brussels, June 23, 2014 – Managers feel under considerable pressure from imposed KPIs. They deem it possible that a leadership style empowering the employees with a high degree of autonomy could help to lower this pressure. Steering using the 80/20 principle works best to align employee engagement with company success. These are major findings of an online discussion between 25 managers of big European companies invited by the Belgian method-based consultancy Synthetron N.V.

 The discussion took place on a secure Internet platform. The participants shared and evaluated 343 ideas altogether, anonymously and in writing.

The messages that were evaluated positively conveyed the following points:

  • Managers feel pressure as an immediate consequence of imposed KPIs. ¾ of them do not agree with the way KPIs are currently used.
  • Many KPIs can result in a culture of just trying to avoid mistakes. The more KPIs are used, the more they indicate a less productive and authoritarian leadership style.
  • Top management changing goals often is insufficient reason for daily pressure of all staff.
  • Too many and too detailed KPIs and those leading to poorly thought through procedures strain cooperation within the company.
  • The participants suggest that the management concentrate on key KPIs. Executives should pay more attention to listening, delegating and communicating strategic context.
  • Most favour smarter processes in day-to-day business, not than a substantial turning away from KPIs in general.
  • If a company decided to renounce KPIs altogether, they would need to be able to articulate their vision completely and also to build on the engagement of employees acting with their own autonomy.
  • Further questions about leadership culture and about the degree of accuracy of KPIs do not show a uniform opinion.

By Michael Erben & Jeanette Kalthof

Is “bottom up” the poor cousin of “top down” in your organisation?

Is “bottom up” the poor cousin of “top down” in your organisation?

Most European Companies stick to a task oriented way of working. Managing activities step by step (operational issues) are delegated to the troops – and as this is the way the Napoleonic wars have been conducted, ‘troops’ is the exact reference for this cultural paradigm. Fashionably called empowerment, many operational issues never get on board agendas.

The opposite is true for all strategic issues – from a merger to new markets to investing into another cite it’s daily board business, it’s top-down: Intellectually challenging but in the end always a yes/no question. Top management is used to this yes/no situations. What’s mostly not on their stake is including a bottom-up understanding: Adding the ‘how’to the ‘what’. One is still on risk when bothering with the ‘how’. A spotlight on it often shows that bottom-up is not as appreciated as top-down. It’s the poor cousin of strategy. It’s put into an employee survey with results carefully filtered before they get published and cascaded down. It’s a matter of politics, of worker’s council acceptance, of securing personal data.
And last but not least it’s open a pandora’s box. However, listening, engaging many to add their wisdom, backing a decision by better understanding the needs – that’s the way a socially grown up enterprise gains attraction not the least on the talent market.

It’s change business on its best. A cultural shift – when troops count not only by numbers but by intellect.

by Michael Erben

> have a look at some cases in which we work bottom up
> experience a synthetron session in which we look for information bottom up

Feedback in Change

Feedback in Change

10 Lessons Learned from Crowdsourcing

Sometimes the requests from Linkedin change practitioners trigger an instant reaction with me. The question about “The greatest barrier to successful change is the pace and accuracy of feedback“ did so because my main focus has been on facilitating this feedback loop on a massive and authentic scale within organisations using crowdsourcing. Hence it motivated me to sum up my ten top lessons learned.

From experience my lessons learned to have a good feedback loops are:

1. Create a safe environment:

Organise your feedback in such a way that people can speak up “safely”, and share their problems, issues and emotions without fear so that you really know what matters. Anonymity is a great enabler here.

2. Reach out:

Involve more than the happy few closely involved in the change project and reach out to those affected by the change. However be careful not to mix people with very different levels of change impact, you gain by splitting people into groups for whom the change-experience will be similar.

3. Get feedback in a social way:

People appreciate hearing the ideas of others, to feel they are not alone, to get tips and insights, and above all to learn and allow their own ideas to be expressed in a conversation.

4. Look for feedforward:

Go beyond feedback on how things are going and ask the people also to give you their insights and wisdom to find solutions and improvements. From our experience there is great wisdom to be gained whenever you create the space for it in your conversations. It is a misconception that people are against change; they are against “bad change”. From our research of thousands of interventions we clearly demonstrate that people mainly think in enabling terms when asked to share feedback during change, i.e. what can be done better (*).

5. Ask the right, meaningful, open questions:

Listen to people in an open way (acknowledging that they are the subjects having to make the change happen). Do not measure people by asking them to respond to a set of closed questions or polls (as if they are objects of the change).

6. Balance attention of Heart, Head and Hands:

Engage your people to share their feedback on the rationale for change (Head) but also on the way they feel the change via behaviour, values, and emotions (Heart). Lastly ask them to share their more practical feedback about aspects of the change (Hands), and they will tell you what changes ito tools, budgets, competences, processes or resources will help the change to progress

7. Calibrate your feedback:

Ensure that a small number of vocal people do not get all the attention, rather find out what most find relevant, including feedback which is not commonly recognised. That way you avoid jumping to invalid conclusions (the crowdsource software can do this for you).

8. Seek feedback regularly:

Feedback “changes” during the change period. At the start, you’ll probably focus on alignment, trying to find how to overcome resistance to change. In later phases the focus is more about improving engagement, enabling you to fine tune the change by improving processes, tools or management, to accelerate your roll out in a robust way. Adapt the pace of your feedback loop to the roll out of your change phases and to your capacity to follow up (and expect results from corrective measures).

9. Understand the meaning of the feedback:

Ask yourself what the feedback means for the change project. Don’t jump to conclusions, but get the bigger picture about what are the most important issues, root causes and potential solutions at different managerial levels. Translate it into managerial implications for the change process – a “so what” analysis.

Here you can go much further than merely listening to the content of what people say. You can identify the various change forces (Head, Heart and Hands), discover effective buzz words, and perform a mindset analysis, so you know what type of communication is most likely to be effective. Some of these steps require specific competences.

10. Follow up:

Asking for feedback is an intervention: you have engaged the people to share their best ideas and opinions, so they are more involved. Recognise and thank them for their valuable feedback, then decide what you are going to do with it and act in a noticeable way. Otherwise next time you risk no longer getting their best opinions and ideas… and all the engagement you created will evaporate
If done right feedback is a positive intervention- we see change readiness increase significantly in moments of feedback (measured both in mindset analysis indicators and by just poll people’s self-assessment on the change curve at the beginning and end of a feedback session). So independent from the insights one can obtain, the process of feedback itself is a potential big change enhancer.

(*)“What Managers, Executives and Staff Tell us that Really Matters”, in Review of Business and Economics, 2011 (2), by Paul Verdin, Eric Cabocel, Joanne Celens & François Faelli.

By Joanne Celens


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Mary Barra’s Staff Engagement Challenge

Mary Barra’s Staff Engagement Challenge

opinion by Graham Bobby

December 1, 2014

I enjoyed a recent extended profile in Time magazine of Mary Barra, the new CEO of General Motors, by Rana Faroohar, linked here (a subscription is required to access the full article) http://time.com/3429651/mary-barras-bumpy-ride-at-the-wheel-of-gm/.

Why is it that whenever we read profiles of female executives, they are interspersed with lots of copy about family and style choices, whereas these are still rarely mentioned in the case of men? I guess neither Faroohar nor Barra would want it this way, but somehow they pander to readers who still expect it. Change comes slowly in this world.


Barra is an engineer and a lifer at GM, promoted amidst a crisis that threatened the future of the company. The tip of an iceberg of safety product recalls threatened to expose a rotten culture underneath it, where not just safety but also customer focus and personal accountability were subsumed by corporate expectations. With the 2008 bailout fresh in people’s minds, public and political goodwill was going to be wafer thin, and any perceived failure could mean the end for Barra and even for GM.

Barra has had to respond decisively, and be seen to do so, without willfully killing her own lifetime employer nor losing the trust of her new staff. So far she has achieved this balance with deftness and passion, helped by her obvious love of her company, her wide existing industry network inside and outside of GM, and by a commitment to engagement.

The article explained how she has visited plant after plant, engaging with shop floor employees and hosting town hall sessions for staff, listening, showing humility, and emphasizing the culture she aspires for GM, centered around the customer.

While this is truly admirable and I wish her well, I can only wonder at her stamina and at how sustainable this model of engagement is. In trying to achieve the same in a more efficient way, this would be an excellent application of our Synthetron method.

What was she trying to achieve here? As a new CEO, she wanted to understand what her staff were saying and thinking, in all departments and all markets. As she crafted her own key messages, she could benefit from using language that resonated positively as widely as possible. She needed to dig and to listen, and be seen to be listening, to unearth the full extent of the safety failings. Finally, she wanted to demonstrate that speaking up and challenge are good, while slavishly hiding behind managers would no longer be acceptable.

She could do this in person in a couple of locations per week. She could give interviews and write memos, instantly forgotten by most employees. She could create some scapegoats, at a cost to leadership morale. She could create bulletin boards and whistleblower opportunities, likely to be treated with great suspicion by staff long used to a very different culture. All these things are helpful, but all are also slow and frustratingly limited in impact.

Synthetron could certainly have helped, and maybe still could. All of the goals can be addressed via our method, at high speed and low cost. It could not replace the other steps, but it could complement them and amplify their impact. With Synthetron, I suggest that Mary Barra could be a few steps further forward on her long road to a recovering GM.

Most of us are lucky enough not to face challenges as intense as those of Barra. But what company would not wish to know how staff were thinking, utilize resonant language, be able to unearth potential issues early and encourage honest engagement? Who is not interested in high speed, wide reach and low cost, whether to reach staff, consumers or other stakeholders?

– Graham Bobby


What next for McDonald’s?

What next for McDonald’s?

by Graham Bobby

The Economist this week featured an article about McDonald’s. Despite still achieving double the revenue per store of competitors – surely a key profit driver – last year McDonald’s saw like-for-like declines in sales and a loss of market share. The result is pressure on the share price and challenges about strategy.Mcdonalds-90s-logo.svg

The article showed how different experiments in the core US market had not so far succeeded and indeed seemed rather inconsistent. The company also suffered from being market leader and hence always under assault from attacks like the movie Super Size Me. Perhaps more important, a new segment of fast-casual restaurants such as Panera bread and Chipotle seem to be stealing some of McDonald’s turf.

Whatever you think of their products, you have to admire the way McDonald’s have built their brand. I remember the weekly ritual of taking my six-year-old swimming, and then to McDonald’s as a treat. Each week the excitement peaked with the unveiling of the Happy Meal toy. Then she slowly consumed a burger she did not really like. But the brand cachet was enough to overcome the unloved core product for many years.

The article suggested a few opportunities but may have missed some others. There was no mention of network optimization, surely always critical for brands based on multiple outlets. But a bigger opportunity may be through the franchisees.

In common with others, McDonald’s operates few stores itself, but uses franchisees for most outlets in mature markets. This saves costs (including capital), promotes on-site service, and means McDonald’s can partially distance itself from issues like minimum wages and trade unions. Modern IT systems mean the company can still benefit from a wealth of “big data” about buying patterns and trends.

But “big data” can sometimes be too much data or the wrong data, especially when factors are involved such as the time it takes to serve people and how patient customers are. Big data will not easily identify the customer who walked out because the line was not moving quickly enough, or the one who carried through with the transaction but vowed never to use that store again.

The ones who are closest to that sort of action are the franchisees and their staff. McDonald’s had a legendary COO, Fred Turner (who died in 2013) who visited stores nearly every day, observed everything and knew everyone. That is tough for senior managers to emulate these days.

So is there a middle way? Marketers cannot easily visit stores every day. They can’t get all they need from customer data. Focus groups are expensive, unreliable and unrepresentative. Market research has obvious limitations. Experiments are slow.


Use the wisdom of franchisees?

What about asking the franchisees? Companies like McDonald’s can be frightened of doing this. I remember it was the same at Shell:


Ronald McDonald ®

we wanted to avoid franchisees ganging up on us. Actually, whenever we did engage them, I was always happy with the results. For one thing, franchisees have few qualms about admonishing their peers for drops in standards.

But if McDonald’s wants to engage franchisees about subtle questions like how to tailor menus to different outlets or making trade-offs between simplicity of offer and growing segments of well-served customers, what is the best way to do it? Asking for ideas in writing misses the chance for franchisees to develop ideas from each other. Big meetings are expensive, and maybe dangerous as well.

A solution is to use crowdsourcing methods to engage, listen and capture the wisdom of the franchisees. Synthetron is an ideal method for such an opportunity. It would be simple to secure regular input from the people closest to the customer by running open Synthetron sessions for franchisees, perhaps once per month. The cost would be minimal compared with meetings, visits or focus groups. There would be an uptick in engagement. The discussions could explore topics right up-to-the minute, radically shortening action loops.

As it struggles against new and old competitors, McDonald’s has many advantages. Some of these remain obvious to managers – such as brand appeal, scale and customer buying data. But others might have become obscured and underutilized over time. The wisdom of franchisees could be an example of such an underused asset. And Synthetron could be a perfect method to help rediscover it.

by Graham Bobby – January 15 2015