We are faced with problems to solve every day of our lives. The large problems can be intimidating and the small problems can be mind-numbing. Either way, there is no avoiding these problems. You are in your leadership position, title or not, because you have the reputation for spotting and solving important problems while rallying others, and yourself to action. Every now and then however, a problem can sneak past even the best leaders and can cause a stir. Where do you begin and how can you help deter the issue from becoming an even bigger problem?
The best outcomes usually come from problems that are dealt with early on. Problems can be identified in the early stages if you make it a habit to frequently ask peers and team members how things are going and what challenges they are facing. Encourage others to provide information on problems as soon as they arise. Be open to their input and suggested solutions, and thank people for bringing the issues to your attention and allowing you the opportunity to address and resolve their concerns. Be sure to follow-through, or people can become reluctant to provide information, as they may assume nothing will change.
Problem solving requires a high level of information about the issues and the needs of employees. Open communication is key. In order to become an effective problem solver, remember that this skill requires everyone involved to share control over the emerging solution. By using the following problem-solving model, you will generate a number of alternative solutions and increase the probability that the final solution will be the best one.
What are the symptoms of the problem? Why is it a problem? What is the impact of the problem?
What is happening? Who is involved? What is the impact of the problem? Who does it affect? What are the causes of the problem?
Once you have gathered the facts, feelings, and opinions, it is important to discover if you are working on the real problem or only a symptom of the problem. This may require restating the problem in a totally different format. Be willing to start over with the real issues if that is what it takes. Why spend valuable time trying to solve something that is not the problem in the first place?
The next step requires generating as many solutions as possible. In this stage, the goal is to generate alternatives. Avoid any judgment or evaluation of solutions at this point.
After you have generated as many alternatives as possible, you want to start deciding which alternative will be the best. Now is the time to be critical about the different alternatives. Be cautious or hesitant when everyone agrees on which alternative to take.
Once you have evaluated all the alternatives, you are then ready to pick the one you think will solve the problem in the best way. Most people start at Step 1 by defining the problem and then move right to Step 6 by making a choice. If we do Steps 2 through 5 correctly and thoroughly, Step 6 should be relatively easy.
Any time you are going to change something, you will always need to rally approval and support. Do not think that the only thing that needs to be done is to select the alternative and then implement it. The negative thinkers will come up with obstacles and possess a “show-me” attitude that must be overcome. It helps if you involve such thinkers in the beginning of the problem-solving process so they become part of the solution and not part of the problem.
After support has been developed, you are finally ready to implement the decision.
If you do not have a follow-up or monitoring system in place that allows you to check results, the chances for success diminish. If people do not know how the results are being measured or that they are going to be held responsible, problem solving becomes a difficult task. When things go right, recognise success. When things go wrong, go back to Step 1 and restart the process.
It’s impossible to avoid all problems, but by following the above steps, you can minimise the impact of a problem and often come out of it stronger for having faced the challenge.