There’s a simple exercise you can do that can rock your world. It’s called the StartKeepStop exercise. Basically, it helps you clarify and define what’s important to you, on a personal, business or professional level (or all three). It’s all about pattern recognition, and it is powerful.

Stop. Great leaders are effective and quick when it comes to recognizing negative patterns. Ask yourself if there are any thorns in your side — any frustrations you keep having to deal with? Any counterproductive measures you could eliminate or change? What has a negative impact on your company’s morale? Any ways you can save time somewhere along the line?

For example, one CEO was totally stumped when it came to his excessively high payroll expenses for two successive quarters. After an extensive private audit of his books, he discovered that his overtime was off the charts. It turned out that his bookkeeper and two of that bookkeeper’s family members received $72,000 in unauthorized overtime during those two quarters.

The CEO then put an immediate stop to all overtime, unless he personally signed off on it. The bookkeeper was told that there would be no unauthorized overtime moving forward if he wanted to keep his job. He was also written up and eventually let go.

Other “stops” could include eliminating any finger pointing, poor systems, inadequate communications, exuberant buying habits (or lack of budget altogether), undisciplined money — or time — management and focusing on only the low-hanging fruit.

Keep. It is also very important to identify and continue to do those things that strengthen your company and/or yourself. This is in essence positive pattern recognition. What are you doing that is having a powerful impact on your business? Perhaps it’s following up with your customers, weekly progress meetings with your team or internal employee satisfaction surveys.

One instance is a company that opted to keep and expand their employee recognition program, which praises personnel who exemplify the company values. Recognition goes to both the nominee AND the nominator, because these actions demonstrate the values that drives the company’s culture. Both are given a gift certificate and they are highlighted in a featured article in the company newsletter. Across the board, the thousands of employees who work for this company throughout the country say that this monthly ritual does more to reinforce the integrity of the company’s value than anything else.

Start. What actions or activities should you start doing that will increase your company’s effectiveness? Maybe you feel that your company’s culture could be strengthened, that your communication skills could be enhanced, that your client and/or vendor relationships could be solidified, or that your public image could use some improvement. Whatever you can dream of you can achieve here. Recognition of opportunity is the first step.

An example of this is a CEO who realized she should start building better relationships with her key clients. She committed to devoting two days per month to on-site “focus groups.” For these, she went to see her clients, along with her sales director and COO, and she asked each client the following questions:

  • What are your plans for growth?
  • What are your greatest challenges and opportunities?
  • How can we help you grow?
  • What are we doing right?
  • What can we do better?
  • Are there other products and/or services you need or would like us to provide?
  • What are others doing better that we could emulate?
  • What should we change?

These visits led to more business and better relationships with their clients than any number of sales calls could have. Opportunities were identified and clarified, new products, services, and distribution methods were introduced, and the clients were thrilled that the company’s CEO cared enough to make these non-sales calls.

You can do the stop – keep – start exercise with your leadership team. Recently, we asked Kevin Donnelly and his leadership team at Speed Wire, Inc. to each write down what they thought they needed to stop – keep – and start doing. This exercise led to the team defining its highest priorities and best opportunities for 2013.

So ask yourself: What do you need to stop – keep – and start doing? If you follow through, it will rock your world.

Originally published on CBS MoneyWatch as “An Exercise That Will Rock Your World“.

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