Problem solving is more than picking the right tool or technique. It is about accepting that sometimes things go wrong or do not turn out as intended. Nobody really wants problems and those of us who have tried to ignore them know that they only grow bigger the longer you leave them.
Problems have a way of looking different to different people depending on how close they are to the problem and where they sit in the organisation. It is therefore important to encourage a culture where problems can be raised and looked at from different angles. The tried and tested practice of rejecting or trivialising problems to avoid the bother of fixing them can be very costly for the organisation not to mention demoralising to those raising the problems with the best of intentions.
Tackle the ball – not the player
All too often, the first step in problem solving is to find someone to blame. This may initially feel good and justified, but it does not solve anything. A more mature approach is to accept that problems are a fact of life and then design and adhere to a process that allows the whole organisation to raise, investigate, and fix problems.
At the UK subsidiary of a US corporation, a new and junior employee in Accounts once discovered a spreadsheet error that turned out to be causing the company an under-invoicing problem to the tune of £2M. First reaction was to try to pin it on the new employee. Great reward for discovering a huge problem. As that did not work, and also did not solve the problem, much energy and effort was put into defining and launching all manner of projects and products aimed at recovering the losses. No action was taken to identify and fix the root cause leaving the door open for the same problem to happen again.
Acceptance – the key to problem solving
The bigger the problem, the quicker people sometimes are to distance themselves from it – and perhaps blame the innocent. Regardless of the size and type of problem, accepting that it exists is crucial. Without acceptance, no one will take ownership of the problem and the process of finding a solution.
An effective problem solving process comprises 6 points of acceptance:
Horses for causes
Problems come in all shapes and sizes. At the smaller end, a bit of investigation and a quick decision is all that is required. Such problems can typically be dealt with at the lower levels of the organisation.
At the bigger and more complicated end, a full scale investigation and production of a business case to support the preferred solution is typically required to inform the decision making by senior management.
Problems can arise everywhere in the organisation and can be resolved “locally” or escalated further up the hierarchy depending on type or severity and the organisation’s processes and attitude to problem solving.
Problem, challenge or opportunity?
You can call a horse a cow, but when it ends up in your burger, it is still a horse. Similarly, a problem does not become less of a problem just because you call it a challenge or an opportunity – it is still a problem. However, a problem can present both an opportunity and a challenge.
A problem is an opportunity to make improvements and the challenge is to find and implement the best possible solution.
A positive problem solving attitude is something that must be incorporated in the overall corporate culture and will require ongoing attention and training to be maintained.
You can also read more about our Problem Solving Training here. We will always tailor the course to your specific requirements. Contact our WBS Group Consultants today.