How To: Improve Your Problem-Solving in Business

No matter how much momentum you and your organisation have, you’re bound to come in contact with some roadblocks on your journey to success. It’s how you get over those roadblocks that often separates good organisations from great ones, however, so let’s talk about some different ways to strategise and overcome these figurative hurdles with the help of some science and psychology.

One of the things we’ve picked up in the multiple decades we’ve had in the business world is that facing a problem in business isn’t entirely a negative thing. What we mean by this is, a number of managers and leaders out there analyse the landscape and identify a problem and they see exactly that: a problem. When you’re facing a situation like this, you’re not only presented with a problem- you’re also presented with an equal-weighted opportunity to improve the processes of the organisation and ensure something like the problem you’re solving doesn’t rear its head again in the future. Or, at the very least, if it does, you’ll have gained the experience – with the subsequent understanding of your organisation – that you can hit the nail on the head more accurately and in a more timely manner.

First, we’ll look at the work of Brian Tracy, in his book, “The Power of Self-Discipline”, Tracy pieces together how individuals can position themselves best for success with a handful of tips to better improve their discipline across a number of aspects of an individual’s life; it’s a great book.

First up, Tracy talks about the necessity of clearly outlining and defining the problem. While this might sound too simple, after having spent decades studying how hundreds of leaders steer their ships, we’ve seen that too often, they rush into a solution before completely understanding what it is that they’re trying to fix. We encourage that spirit, but those efforts would be much more effective if you can target the problem, not try to apply a blanket fix without fully understanding the root cause of what you’re trying to address.

Next up, it’s time to define whether or not this is a problem that you’re even able to address, or whether or not we’re talking about a ‘fact of life’ that your organisation might have to learn to live with. As Brian Tracy explains, there are at times things that your organisation simply can’t fight against- take an industry that has been massively disrupted, for example. While the taxi industry sure would like to eliminate ride-share platforms from the equation, they’ve learned -the hard way – that this disruption is a fact of life. Don’t try too hard to swim against the current if your organisation is facing a ‘fact of life’ problem- your resources are better suited to plotting an alternate trajectory. If it is simply a fact of life – or business – your time is much better invested into addressing other areas, rather than trying to change something that simply can’t be changed.

The third way in which Tracy says organisations can refine their problem-solving is to analyse the definition from all possible angles; in other words, define the problem and its causes from as many positions as possible. If your sales are lacking, for example, analysing this from a number of angles would ask you to plot out things like your competitor’s strengths, your advertising or marketing pointing in the wrong direction, or perhaps a poor sales process that fails to convert a number of leads into finalised sales. Next up, Tracy says we should try to iteratively question the cause of the problem, rather than spend too much time treating the symptoms. This is perhaps an area in which your organisation can divide and conquer when it comes to problem-solving. This common-sense approach will ensure your organisation is focussing on the root cause of a problem as you try to address it, so you don’t waste your time re-solving the same problem over and over again.

Next, you and your team should identify as many possible solutions as you can brainstorm, keeping in mind the importance of your stakeholders; which we’ll cover briefly at the end of the piece. Note that we used the term ‘brainstorm’ in our earlier sentence? Get everyone in the organisation to join in on this session- regardless of their position. Too often, great ideas and possible solutions to a problem are ignored because of the simple fact a manager didn’t think of them… this isn’t the time for pride, it’s the time for problem-solving- so get everyone involved and plot out as many different action plans as possible.

From here, you need to make a decision- again, keeping in mind your stakeholders. Tracy implores speed at this point of the process, stating that the longer you hold off on making a decision, the higher the cost and the larger the impact on your organisation’s bottom-line and reputation, respectively. Ideally, your objective or possible solution should be aiming to deal with 80% of the problems immediately, or at the very least, as large as you could brainstorm in the previous step. The author also states the importance of setting a specific deadline for the implementation of this strategy, and we’d implore you to also set a date soon after to begin measuring the effectiveness of what you’ve implemented; the latter is often ignored.

Next up, the management team should assign responsibility as to who exactly will carry out the solution, or delegate a team to address the problem and its remedy. On this note, and finally, Tracy says that the organisation should set a measure for the solution, otherwise you’re at risk of not knowing how effectively the problem was addressed, and the timeframe. The latter part of this problem-solving equation draws parallels with the PDCA cycle, whereby a change is implemented and measured accordingly, always with the possibility of additional changes to ensure the fix is working.

Before we close this off, let’s talk about the possible collateral damage of solving a problem that might require you to change key areas in your organisation. Do not, and we can’t stress this enough, do not let your customers pay for your mistakes. The leadership and management team should be aware that the organisation needs to wear the damage, rather than the customer. If you’re comfortable with having your most important of stakeholders pay for your mistakes, we are afraid you’re underestimating the importance of this stakeholder; their patronage and word-of-mouth referrals are invaluable to your organisation to build up revenue and trust in the marketplace.

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