What is the 36 Month Question?
The 36 Month Question is a simple but valuable tool that I frequently use to gain an understanding of what may be blocking clients from achieving their business and/or personal goals. However, it goes much further than this. If used properly, it can also allow you to help your clients to articulate their business plans without even knowing it.
Most of us get stuck when we are asked to consider what we might do in the future. We get paralysed in the here and now and have no idea how to overcome our problems or how to plan our way out of it. The purpose of the 36 Month Question is to take a client out of this paralysis and put them into a position where they can feel completely empowered. The key to the successful use of this tool is to stop the client from looking forward – looking forward mires them back in the world of the impossible, particularly if things are difficult for them or their business right now.
What does the 36 Month Question attempt to do?
This framework is used to help the client to move from the here and now to 3 years into the future in his own mind. It sounds crazy, right? Well it isn’t when you consider that it is really a simple exercise in visioning. When you coax the client to move forward 36 months and to then look back from a position of well-being and positivity, you are allowing him to move past whatever is blocking him in the here and now, while identifying for himself the steps that need to be taken to get past any such blockages.
The exercise involves shedding any negativity that a client may be feeling about the future and shrugging off any fears about what steps need to be taken to ensure that the business becomes even more successful. It is not necessary or useful to explain why you are doing the exercise at this point. Simply encourage them to go along with it.
So what do I say to the client to get started?
“Close your eyes and contemplate the following situation. Try to imagine that you are now 3 years into the future and have achieved all your business and personal goals. Try to feel the feelings of success and well being that comes with knowing you have achieved everything you set out to do. Now, looking back (not forward), what were the key things you did that made this success possible? Let’s list them in the order in which you took these decisions and actions and elaborate on the specific results each action led to. So what is the first thing you did 3 years ago that put you on the path to success that you are clearly now enjoying”
Ensure that your client is not allowed to step out of the future position while looking back, and that he articulates the first thing he did and not the first thing he is about to do. This is really important. Keep bringing him back to a “looking back” position. Also, write down everything he says or have someone else in the room record his comments.
Then ask Questions that Clarify
Try to get as specific as possible. If he says something like he hired a production manager, you ask him how did he find him? What type of person is he? What kind of experience does he have? Was he recommended to you? What difference has he made to your business? How much does he cost your business in salary and benefits?
Then move on to ask “what did you do next?” Again, seek clairification and ask folllow up questions that make his answers real and tangible. Continue to do this until you have exhausted all avenues of exploration. It is important to build in some personal questions as well such as “how has this changed your life?” “Has it allowed you to buy a bigger house, a holiday home, the fancy car you always wanted?”
How do I Conclude the Exercise?
Once you have got to the point where the client has no more to add to what he says he did to change his business and his life, you simply thank him for his participation in the exercise. Then explain the rationale for doing the exercise.
Explain to the client how any situation is very different from the point of view of empowerment and positivity when compared to viewing it while being in a rut. Then read back the list of actions that you have recorded during the session. Watch the surprise on the client’s face when your read back the list of actions he took and the order in which he undertook them. This prioritisation is important. Usually the first thing the client listed is the thing that is holding them back in the present.
Show the client how the list of actions you recorded during your session is in fact their business plan for the future. In essence, they will have discovered the business strategies and tactics that they need to employ to take their business to the next level.
Don’t be tempted to half-do this exercise with a client. Complete it in full as the exploration will serve your client. Consider that every invention that has ever been successful in our modern world was first conceived in the mind of a man or a woman. In the same way, your clients need to see the rewards of their effort before they can manifest themselves in reality.
If you want to watch me bringing a client through this 36 Month Question process, click on this link https://youtu.be/g-BnTNXlEoE It runs for about 8 minutes.