The art of problem solving

When it comes to performance, nobody is cutting you any slack. Expectations are high, but you own them. Next thing you hit a roadblock. All of a sudden winning seems like a distant dream.

Houston, we have a problem.

Full of hope, you raise the issue with the powers that be. Someone has to step in and do something, right? Little did you know; your fate was about to turn for the worse.

You get stomach punched by that cliché straight from corporate hell.

“Don’t come with problems. Come with solutions!”

Back to square one.

Fortunately, today I’m giving you a head start into the art of problem-solving – one of the most sought-after skills in business.  The below method works brilliantly as a discussion guide or presentation template.

Step 1 – Preparation

 

Not everything that needs fixing counts as a business problem. If you’re a small fry like me, having a voice that counts has a lot to do with knowing how to wear the business hat – and wear it better.

With workplaces becoming more complex and tangled up with our personal lives, it takes a bit of practice to discern business problems from personal and interpersonal issues.

A business problem exists when something is preventing/ could prevent the company from achieving its goals or reaching its full potential. Unhappy customers, for example, indirectly impact sales targets because they are unlikely to buy again and speak positively about the brand.

What's a business problem?

 

Step 2 – What’s Going on Here?

 

Start with a clear and precise description of the problem. Remember the business hat and be as objective and factual as possible.

You can get by with a few short statements on what’s happening (or not happening); when it’s happening; how often; and whom it involves. Also, include a sentence or two on how the problem is affecting the business in general – its people, customers and goals.

Important to remember, this step is not about explaining why the problem is happening or what caused it. You are merely describing the current reality.

As a word of advice, do your homework well and have examples/reports/facts at hand as a backup. Murphy’s law has it; there will ALWAYS be someone who feels the need to disagree.

Step 3 – Future Pacing

 

Imagine a world without that infamous problem. How much more could we accomplish?  What will finally become a reality? What will be the benefit to the business, its people and customers?

Painting a picture of the desired state in the future is an incredibly powerful tool. If you can stretch your mind beyond everything that’s wrong today, you are well on your way to becoming an influential and respected leader in all facets of life.

Businesses need courageous cookies which can identify obstacles to growth. The tricky part is standing out from the crowd of complainers.  That’s because influential individuals – whom you need on your side – are generally good at filtering out noise and negativity.

Problem-solving is not an individual effort. It requires buy-in, support and resources from several stakeholders. So chances are they have other headaches and priorities on their minds.

The secret to problem-solving is not being the smartest person nor having all the ready-made answers. It’s about gathering consensus for the gap between what is and what can be – and then motivating others to build a bridge.

Step 4 – The Why Game

 

Time to unpack the why and get to the root of the problem. If you made it here, you’ve already shown an incredible amount of leadership and sharp thinking.

This is by far the most challenging part of the problem-solving process. Why? Because the answers usually don’t come from Google or the boardroom. Top consulting firms don’t have any secret methods or silver bullets. They’ve merely mastered the art of asking the right questions to the right people.

Looking at the problem as described in Step 2, put your own version of the truth aside for the timebeing. Ask questions and listen as much as you can. Do this with customer, suppliers, competitors, colleagues etc.  Don’t rush this step and leave no stone unturned until you’re comfortable enough that you’ve looked at the situation from various angles. This step could involve formal research or stretch over several weeks.

Other times, you don’t have the luxury to do that. In the case, make it an open discussion and involve others in the process of uncovering the truth.

An fantastic method to get to the bottom of things is playing the why game. Start-off with a problem statement (see Step 2). Then ask yourself or others, why this is happening. Ask again. Rinse repeat.
 

The basic idea is to keep asking why until the truth comes out.

Play the why game

Step 5 – Taking Action

 

Time to define some key actions to take the business from current state to the desired state you so beautifully outlined in Step 3. These efforts need to be S.M.A.R.T. to ensure they hit home (read up on S.M.A.R.T objectives if you have no clue what that means).

Again, make this a very inclusive and open-minded process. Small but bright fries get things done through thought leadership and influence rather than telling others what to do. A person is far more likely to take accountability for something if they feel they got to this point all by themselves.

Conclusion

 

I’ve there was just one thing I’d like you to take away from this article; it would be this: problem-solving is a fantastic opportunity to sharpen your leadership skills irrespective of where you are on the corporate ladder.

By giving others an opportunity to co-own the process and fill the gaps in your knowledge and experience, you’re already miles ahead from the rest of the fries, forever reacting to whatever issues arise on the day.

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