Posted by: nuleadership | February 24, 2014

The Nature of Effective Problem Solving

Whiteboard--business man-strategic-planning-on-the-whiteboard

Our youth program continues to grow at my church.  Of course, it is a simple formula as our church is one of the biggest in the area.  Church going parents make it mandatory for their children to attend church and participate in church services.  However, when the children graduate from high school and became young adults, their attendance becomes very low or non-existent. 

At that time, Velma Biddles was the youth leader and fairly new to the position.  She and her youth advisors have seen the shift of young people’s attitude.  If churches want to be effective with youth, they must change their underpinning message of: “Children are to be seen and not heard.”  Our youth advisors started to deal with the root causes of matters concerning our youth. Sadly, many businesses are spending millions on symptoms. What about you? 

Good problem solving can be an asset in an organization.  Some organizations find themselves solving the wrong problems and getting less than desired results.  Other managers assume that good technical staff members are naturally good problem solvers.  However, this observation is not necessarily true.  Effective problem solvers often have an intuitive skill set or enough training in problem solving for finding the right problems and making the best decisions.  

 John Gamble and Arthur Thompson, authors of Essentials of Strategic Management, outline the importance of filling key managerial slots with people who are good at figuring out what needs to be done and possess skills in effective implementation and in producing desired results.  They note, “No company can hope to perform the activities required for successful strategy execution without attracting and retaining talented managers and employees with suitable skills and intellectual capital.”  A problem can be defined as ‘an obstacle that stands in the way of achieving a desired goal.’ In fact, problems are divergences from the preferred outcomes.  

The basic problem solving stages include: (a) Identify the problem, (b) Gather information, (c) Clarify the problem, (d) Consider possible solutions, (e) Select the best option, and (f) Make a decision and monitor the solution. High performing organizations move beyond superficial problem solving in order to get to the root causes.  Good businesses realize that uncovering the real problems can be beneficial in many ways, such as reduced risks, cost savings, and greater efficiencies.  

Jeff Butterfield, author of Problem Solving and Decision Making, argues about the benefits of talented problem solvers: “People who can identify, define, and solve problems are valued members of an organization.” 

 

Like our youth advisors recognizing the problem and adapting appropriate solutions, today’s managers must be willing to move beyond their own bias to discover the real causes of problems.  Too many managers seek to major in the minors.  High performing organizations cannot afford to let this happen. 

In general, effective problem solving can be a great competitive advantage for organizations.  Formulating better decision making happens with more effective problem solving.  Businesses with talented problem solvers will have a greater capacity for sustainable success. 

Discuss your professional experience with problem solving in your industry or organization.

© 2014 by Daryl D. Green

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Responses

  1. This is an interesting topic and one that I have had some past experiences with. All organizations and companies will have problems. They are inevitable. When those problems go unsolved, bigger problems and larger issues arise. That is where problem solvers and effective problem solving comes in to play a vital role in the success of a company. However, those people that are gifted in the area of solving problems have to be given the authority and go-ahead from their supervisors and/or managers to take care of the issue(s) at hand. I know in past experience, I have identified issues within a business, brought them to the attention of my supervisor, and proposed a remedy for the problem. But, because my supervisor was one of those micromanager-type people who did not want to release any responsibility at all, she would not accept my proposal. Instead, things kept going the way they always had until several larger issues came up which caused an extreme disservice to our business, making myself and my co-workers work harder and longer to fix the original problem (the way I had suggested to my supervisor) and the subsequent problems. If the original, smaller problem had been solved, none of the other issues would have come up and the business would have ran more smoothly.

    One of the points made in the original post that I thought was interested was about businesses solving the wrong problems. I think this is an important issue as well. As I stated previously, all businesses are going to have problems, and more than one. It is necessary for businesses to correctly identify and prioritize these problems in order of urgency (depending on its effect on the business). When less urgent problems get focused on and solved, the bigger, more urgent problems get larger and cause several other smaller problems (like in the example I gave above).

  2. This was an interesting topic. Problem solving can sometimes be a difficult task to solve. The organization I work at has certain steps to identifying the problem and hopefully resolving the issue. I agree with the steps to solving the problem all the way up to considering possible solutions. This is the toughest one because you may consider possible solutions in your head but when it is time to discuss these with the person they may not be on the same page with you on solving the issue. Being a supervisor, it is tough being the decision maker. Employees will generally do what you ask if there is a two-way respect line. Winning or losing often depends on how you treat your employees (2013). I believe that everyone wants to be treated fairly and with respect and if that happens then there will be more times of people getting tasks done when the supervisor needs them.

    5 supervisor mistakes that can breed employee backlash. (2013, April 25). Retrieved from http://www.dawnlennon.com/tag/supervisor-decision-making/

  3. In my company I actually worked with Jalene Nemec, one of our guest speakers in the course, and author of Great Customer Service: the Definitive Handbook for Today’s Successful Business, to solve a major problem in the company. The problem was in our inventory system. Everything in the warehouse had a specific place but it was hard to find unless you had been the one to stock it and remembered where that was. If it was a fast moving item you’d know by heart, if it wasn’t you could search for up to an hour to find it, especially if it had been placed in the wrong area. At the time I was working in the warehouse. When she was hired on, she asked me about the problems we faced with inventory. I brought this and a few other things to her attention. Her solution was simple, assign aisles a letter and shelve sections a number and re-organize the warehouse and then enter into a software where that item is stocked by that letter and number. For example, we would now be able to find a widget easily because on the order, it was given a location number R24. This meant the widget was in aisle R, in column 2, on the fourth shelf down. It cut down order pulling time drastically.It is things like this that made for better service to our customers because it better guaranteed that their orders would get out that day.

    Nemec. Jalene, Green, Daryl. (2012). Great Customer Servicce: The definitive handbook for today’s successful business. CreateSpace.ISBN-10: 1480054704. ISBN-13: 978-1480054707.

  4. A prior employer of mine had several issues with problem solving. They were a prime example of tackling symptoms but not the main cause.

    Some examples include:
    • Introducing programs to clients without significant testing
    • Not informing employees about changes and new programs prior to implementation
    • Rampant negativity and rumors
    • Non-empowered and ineffective leadership and management below the highest levels

    Those are just some of the issues we had at the time. The company typically would make rapid changes without communication, and management was unable to direct their own responses due to higher level pressure. It is not difficult to recognize that overall lack of communication and empowerment were the main problems.

    With proper communication, departments would have been able to work together and employees would have been prepared and informed. Testing would have been properly completed to rule out issues prior to implementation. If management had power to actually run their departments, potential issues could have been resolved more timely and effectively.

    A review of a book series called The McKinsey Engagement condenses effective decision making into two parts. The first is team building. The second is the focus process; frame, organize, collect, understand, and synthesize (2012). With this approach, many of the problems my former workplace faced would have been recognized, and much more likely to have been overcome.

    Srinivasan, S. (2012). The mckinsey engagement: a powerful tool kit for more efficient and effective team problem solving. Vikalpa: The Journal For Decision Makers, 37(1), 154-158

  5. The nature of effective problem solving
    Problem solving in the food industry is very important in running an efficient and effective organization. Managers should aim to be proactive and not reactive when a problem arises. Taking the initiative to prepare for events rather than react to them is what is important in an active workplace like the food industry.
    Measom (2014) suggests a five step process that managers can use to make proactive decisions, they include, identifying the problem, brainstorm several solutions, write down the pros and cons of each solution, choose the solution with the most advantages, and adjust the solutions as needed.
    Measom, C (2014). How to make proactive decisions. Retrieved from http://smallbusiness.chron.com/make-proactive-decisions-49754.html on February 25, 2014.

  6. Problem solving is critical in healthcare. It’s expected of leaders, but is also done by staff. There is unpredictability in each day and we must support the staff in this. According to Carmel, Gelbard, and Reiter-Palmon (2013),” leadership and knowledge sharing are both important contributors to an enhanced capacity for creative problem solving”. Most healthcare leaders encourage this with the front line staff. When I meet with an employee with a concern, I always ask about a possible solution. Not all employees are comfortable with this, but I emphasize how their input is valued. I once met with an employee who had concerns about information we collected from our patients at registration. While she understood the information was vital, she found where we duplicated our request, resulting in the patient having to provide the same information twice. She came to me with a recommended solution. This problem affected her, as she knew it affected patients. Her solution came from her experience in the process, which emphasizes the need for a workforce of problem solvers.

    Carmeli, A., Gelbard, R., & Reiter-Palmon, R. (2013). Leadership, creative problem-solving capacity, and creative performance: the importance of knowledge sharing. Human Resource Management, 52(1), 95-121. Doi:10.1002/hrm.21514.

  7. There is so many good examples to draw on here. Problem solving will always be one of the most important aspects of solid leadership. Someone with an intuitive mind who can really get to the root of the problem is extremely valued within a corporate structure. A good example of this is one from one of my favorite movies “Moneyball.” Moneyball addresses the back door dealings in major league baseball and the thought process behind it. The Oakland Athletics were handed a difficult problem…get good players with no budget. They brought on an economics major from Yale who revolutionized the whole player evaluation process. He identified the primary issue of teams trying to keep up with the Yankees and Red Sox, instead of getting undervalued players at a good price. Using this method the A’s won 20 games in a row and made the playoffs with one of the cheapest rosters in baseball.

    The most valuable person in the whole club was the kid from Yale, not the players on the field, simply because he solved the main problem in baseball. While being ridiculed at first, shortly after every team start using the same player evaluations.

  8. This blog is interestingly enough matching to my current life situation perfectly. To comment on the low levels of youth attending church, I am one of those statistics. I was always brought up in church and I enjoy attending church services. However, away from home and starting a new career I feel ashamed to say that I make excuses for not attending church. It’s definitely on my top list of priorities to improve in my life though. As for problem solving in business management positions, I am a prime example of this as well. Before being hired on as an engineering manager at AT&T, I was required to pass a problem solving exam. According to Govindarajan, this is the perfect strategy to implement into their organizations to match managers to their specified set of skills. Problem solving is certainly one category that requires a specific type of person, skill set, and mind function capabilities. Research prompts managers to require passing scores for exams, a certain degree, or professional license for assigning employees to problem solving and conflict management positions.

    Govindarajan, V. (1989). Implementing competitive strategies at the business unit level: Implications of matching managers to strategies. Strategic Management Journal,10(3), 251-269.

  9. While I was in the United States Marine Corps there was a need to increase our fleet readiness of our aircraft. AIRSpeed is a continuous process improvement program in the Navy and Marine Corps Aviation communities that employs Lean Six Sigma and Theory of Constraints to improve aviation logistics support. Part of our program consisted of a Five S event. We needed to lean out our unit.
    Five S. Traditional Lean approach to organizing and standardizing work in the workplace:
    • Sort (organize)
    • Stabilize (eliminate variations)
    • Shine (clean)
    • Standardize (make standard the best known way to do something)
    • Sustain (consciously continue to work the previous four items)
    Another item that needed to be addressed was the apparent disconnect between the different divisions. Therefore, we had representatives from each work center visit every other unit and learn how each unit relies on one another. Understanding how each unit worked and relied on one another allowed each unit to no longer think about self and the overall mission. A metrics was also established to measure the results and improve upon them.

  10. The importance of determining and stating the problem in a particular situation is crucial. Professor Green “beats this in his students’ heads,” you must state the problem before a implementation plan can ever be set in place. The problem isn’t always clear and stands out, sometimes it can be utterly difficult determining what the core problem in a company may be. Every company will run into problems. The majority of problems can be overcome or avoided. “Problem solving long has been recognized as a key to managerial effectiveness. Nearly twenty years ago, Douglas McGregor observed that much of a manager’s work includes, “organizing his own and his subordinates’ activities, planning, choosing his own managerial strategies, and a wide range of other decision-making activities” (Lang, Dittrich, and White 854). Issues need to be brought to attention “ASAP” when a manger notices sometimes wrong to efficiently correct the issue at hand.
    James R. Lang, John E. Dittrich and Sam E. White. The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 3, No. 4 (Oct., 1978), pp. 854-866. Academy of Management. http://www.jstor.org/stable/257939


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