Whether it is an internal problem with employees or systems or an external problem involving vendors or clients, problems are a fact of life. However, once problem solving is approached as a process, these events can be dealt with quickly and effectively, getting you back to profitable business. Here is a step by step method for tackling the issues that are holding back progress.
1. Do not ignore the situation. Problems are one of the costs of doing business. The easy impulse is always to try and ignore a hard problem and hope that it goes away. The flaw in this strategy is that it almost never works. In fact, it usually only makes the problem worse. Oftentimes, it makes the problem worse in ways that you never could have expected. Eventually there is a moment where you realize that the only way to solve the problem is to face it head on, even if that means making some hard decisions. That is the moment you grow up a little bit and your business will begin to move forward again.
2. Take control of your company. Your job as a leader is to motivate and challenge the entire team to make a difference. If your company is facing tough times, much like in your personal life, the success is determined by the commitment of each individual and the accountability of all. A weak economy is a great excuse to be either successful or unsuccessful. Most people tend to blame outside influences, such as the economy, for lack of sales, money and professional and personal success, but they don’t “blame” those same outside influences when they achieve success. Well, great leaders don’t blame the economy for their successes or failures; they use a poor economy to motivate their team and maximize their results. As a leader, your most important job is to motivate and develop your employees in any and all conditions.
- Who? Who is brought the problem to you attention? Who is being affected by the problem?
- What? What is the problem? Do you understand the full reach and consequences?
- Where? Where is the problem focused? And where does the problem spread?
- When? When did the problem begin? When does the problem need to be resolved by? Is it impacting your timelines?
- Why? Why is this problem occurring? Is it a new system no one knows how to use? Is it an interpersonal conflict?
Ask these questions of the people affected by the problem. Chances are, you may not fully be aware or fully understand the problem. Try to get the full scope. Without this knowledge, you will not be able to form an effective solution. Also ask a few people outside the immediate problem area. This will allow you to assess the spread and set the priority.
4. Develop Multiple Solutions
Contrary to the saying, your first instinct is not always the best, especially in regards to problem solving. This is because problem solving is a concrete process, not instinctual creativity. First impressions of a situation are not always correct. Only with time and information will the full problem present itself, and as a result, only with time and information will an effective solution present itself.
Come up with multiple solutions, preferably with one or more of the affected individuals. Your job is not to be the expert in that area. Your job is to formulate a process with information you gather. Make a list of the possible solutions.
5. Investigate Possible Outcomes
Look into the future and assess the possible outcomes of each listed solution. Consult with affected individuals. Go through multiple scenarios. Again, you do not need to be the expert; you only need to provide the structural scaffolding for building the solution.
6. Choose the Best Solution
This one is self-explanatory. When all the solutions have been assessed and investigated, choose the solution to best fit the problem, with the least amount of negative consequences to the individual employees, the department, and the company as a whole.
7. Follow Through
All this time and planning will be wasted if there is no plan of action. The theory of the solution must be turned into a plan that can be practically implemented. Use question words as a guide:
- Who? Who needs to make a change?
- What? What do they need to do? What is the process they need to follow? What actions do they need to take?
- Where? Where will this change take place? Is it a change in one individual or does it require a company-wide policy?
- When? When will this action begin? What is the timeline? Are there deadlines by which the changes need to be made?
- How? How will we measure the progress? Will it be a quantitative (numbers) result that needs to be recorded or will it be qualitative (quality) result? If it is qualitative, how will the result be quantified? (Surveys, interviews, etc)
The best offense is a good defense. Does the problem in this department indicate that there may be other departments suffering from the same issue? Are there related problems that may come up? Did your solution create an unavoidable problem that you now need to address? Actively staying involved in the problem solving process requires engagement in the company, with both the employees and the consumers. A proactive approach can be a money and time saving attitude to adopt.
9. Above all, apply this system with URGENCY! The only way to cut through it all is to act with a real sense of urgency. To behave with an almost desperate urge to find and fix the problem no matter what and as soon as humanly possible. Only when you have a spirit or urgency can you push your way through the admin and red tape. Only by acting with urgency can you get others to deliver on time. Only being truly urgent in your dealings can you achieve anything significant in a year.