Get Unstuck with this approach to risk and impact

How to approach risk and impact to get “unstuck”.

Approach to Risk and Impact
Approach to Risk — a Shirlaws Group tool

Some of the most powerful learning I have had in my career came from being an active part of Shirlaws for years. In addition to deep training as a coach, the business tools and frameworks remain, to my mind, both truly powerful as well as concise and clear. A real favourite is the 2x2 matrix above, a conversation piece used with leadership teams around their vision for the business. I’d often introduce it by talking through the four boxes this way:

  • Incremental — low Impact, low Risk. If this was your approach, you wouldn’t have me in the room with you!
  • Informational — low Impact, high Risk — often used signal what you will do in the future, it can both get and lose followers. For example, signal you will be net zero by 2040, so get out of your current core business. No real impact today, you may gain some followers, you may lose some by shifting the philosophy of your business (eg auto manufacturers)
  • Strategic — High Impact, Low RIsk. For example, at the left hand side of that box you may simply be focussing on where you can do the same things more efficiently.
  • Radical — High Impact, HIgh risk. eg Netflix abandoning the DVD rental business while it was still profitable in order to focus all energy on streaming. Initially the stock market hammered them, but hey, Reed Hasting got it right, wouldn’t you say?

Now, with this model explained at the right point in a discussion with a leadership team, I’d have them individually choose where they would mark on the grid the approach for the company to take. This would then always create, with facilitation, a great conversation that could unlock the conversation, creating alignment on what’s next.

I recall this for two reasons. One, yesterday I saw a past client be recognised as one of the top companies in their country. Two, yesterday I also wrote “Let me help you get Unstuck”.

My mind them flew back years to my first (three day offsite) meeting with the leadership team of this client. I was there to support them at the beginning of their journey towards a bold vision for the future. Naturally, sometimes this felt challenging, they were uprooting their status quo, so over the three days on a few occasions the conversation got “stuck”. I vividly remember at one point bringing this tool up, then asking each of them to walk up to the drawing I had made on the flipchart and marking their choice. Despite the detailed conversations just prior having got them stuck in the content, when they saw that they all broadly agreed to be in the “Radical” box, the conversation flowed about WHY that was and WHAT that would look like.

In short, the right tool at the right time can create alignment and clarity so you can “Get Unstuck”.

Now, for more on the 2x2 matrix concept, hat tip to Nick Parker in his latest weekly “Journal of Messy Thinking” for pointing me towards a piece from “Formats Unpacked” on “Formats Unpacked: The 2x2 Matrix”. Snippets:

The latter is key to the client example I just used. It was introduced at the right time, when all involved were deeply familiar with the underlying business challenges and opportunities, then took the initial “x marks the spot” exercise and then conscienciously held that robust discussion. Result? Alignment and Momentum

In closing, I leave you with an image from the article showing two of the most famous 2x2 examples. Oh, and if you haven’t thought of the Eisenhower one for a while and you struggle with prioritising where you spend your time, happy to have reminded you!

Originally published at Tom McCallum.

Sounding Board for Leaders seeking to go from Good to Great to Elite to World Class. Daily posts here, or

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