Problem solving is a full-time task in business. Whether you own the business, or have only a small role in daily operations, making decisions and solving problems is a key part of your job. The most effective people, and the happiest ones, are the ones who accept this reality, and even relish the challenges of overcoming the unknowns, rather than struggling and stressing with each.
If this doesn’t come naturally for you today, I assure you that it can be learned. In my own business career, many years as a business advisor, and mentor to aspiring entrepreneurs, I have validated the following strategies to practice and guide you.
Each of these will help you in achieving success and satisfaction while tackling your toughest business issues:
Stop attacking symptoms – dig first for the root cause. A broken process or a subtle quality issue can generate a flood of customer satisfaction problems, cost overruns, and loss of market share. The right first step for every issue is the old “ask why three times” strategy to get to the root of the problem. Don’t waste time fixing symptoms.
Jeff Bezos is a huge proponent of root cause analysis, and believes it is what sets Amazon apart. Way back in 2004, he cared enough about an associate's injury to spend time investigating, and used the exercise to isolate a root cause without blaming anyone.
Search for the multiple dimensions of a problem. Don’t oversimplify – most issues have a scope greater than one dimension. For example, your quality problem may well have both design as well as manufacturing elements. Fixing only one of these will only lead to more frustration. A better definition of a problem always leads to a better solution.
This same principle can also be applied to solving problems that are new opportunities. Elon Musk often talks about identifying all the dimensions of a problem, such as lower cost battery technology, as the key to moving the electric vehicle industry ahead.
Build and evaluate a list of alternative solutions. We are all prone to running with the initial solution that comes to mind, rather than comparing several to produce the best outcome. On tough issues, I recommend the use of brainstorming with colleagues, to expand your efforts, and develop a half-dozen alternatives. Then pick the best one.
Of course, this all has to start with you having the confidence and conviction that there is at least one solution to every problem, and that you can find it. Without this mindset, and the determination to make a decision, nothing happens, and customers find alternatives.
Build motivation through rewards and incentives. Team members, including yourself, who are not engaged or determined will ignore problems, or will give up too soon. All you will hear are excuses, or you won’t hear about the problem until it’s a crisis. Build that momentum by rewarding every team member for small successes and early surfacing.
Hold the right people accountable for delivering results. Ultimately, every problem and every issue needs a decision and a solution, not more study. It’s your job as a business leader to accept and assign responsibility, and then track the process to completion. The most damaging issues are the ones that never seem to get resolved.
Measure results to validate fixes and prevent recurrence. The positive impact of recognizing problems in a business is the clear indication that something more needs to be measured. Make sure that you implement a metric with each solution, to prevent the issue from recurring, and check for side effects and follow-on side effects.
Provide training and tools to upgrade solution skills. As the market and technology changes, you and your team need to learn new skills, and how to use new tools. Even the best business professionals and leaders must concentrate on learning something new each day, through mentors, Internet resources, and studying competitors.
If you are looking for more satisfaction from your work, or seeking to advance your career, then more focus on problem solving, utilizing the strategies outlined here, will definitely pay big dividends. If you are an aspiring entrepreneur, then adopting these strategies is critical to surviving and thriving in the uncharted world of startups. Put the fun back into your work.