Originally published in April 2019, this advice from Ben Hershey still holds true today.
With as many problems as we all face in our work and life, it seems there is never enough time to solve each one without dealing with some adversity. Problems keep mounting so fast that we take shortcuts to alleviate the tension temporarily points to move on to the next problem. In the process, we fail to solve the core of each problem we are dealing with; thus, we continuously get caught in a never-ending cycle that makes it difficult to find real resolutions. Sound familiar?
Problem-solving is the essence of what leaders exist to do. As leaders, the goal is to minimize the occurrence of problems—which means we must be courageous enough to tackle them head-on before circumstances force our hand. We must be resilient in our quest to create and sustain momentum for the organization and people we serve. But the reality of the workplace finds us dealing with people who complicate matters with their corporate politicking, self-promotion, power-plays and ploys, and envy. Silos, lack of budgets and resources, and many other random acts or circumstances also make it harder for people to be productive.
Competitors equally create problems for us when they unexpectedly convert a long-standing client, establish a new industry relationship, or launch a new product, brand, or corporate strategy. Mergers and acquisitions keep us on our toes and further distract us from solving existing problems by creating new ones.
As Karl Popper, one of the most influential 20th-century philosophers of science, once eloquently stated, “All life is problem-solving.” I’ve often contended that the best leaders are the best problem solvers. They have the patience to step back and see the problem through broadened observation; circular vision. They see around, beneath, and beyond the problem itself. They see well beyond the obvious. The most effective leaders approach problems through a lens of opportunity. Leaders who lack this wisdom approach problems with linear vision—thus only seeing the problem directly in front of them and blocking the possibilities within the problem. As such, they never see the totality of what the problem represents—that it can serve as an enabler to improve existing best practices, protocols, and standard operating procedures for growing and competing in the marketplace.
A leader must never view a problem as a distraction but rather as a strategic enabler for continuous improvement and opportunities previously unseen.
Whether you are a leader for a large corporation or a small business owner, here are the four most effective ways to solve problems.
1. Transparent Communication
Problem-solving requires transparent communication where everyone’s concerns and points of
view are freely expressed. I’ve seen one too many times how difficult it is to get to the root of the matter in a timely manner when people do not speak up. Yes, communication is a fundamental necessity. That is why when those involved in the problem would rather not express themselves— fearing they may threaten their job and/or expose their own or someone else’s wrongdoing—the problem-solving process becomes a treasure hunt. Effective communication toward problem-solving happens because of a leader’s ability to facilitate an open dialogue between people who trust her intentions and feel that they are in a safe environment to share why they believe the problem happened and specific solutions.
2. Break Down Silos
Transparent communication requires you to break down silos and enable a boundary-less organization whose culture is focused on improving a healthier whole. Unnecessary silos invite hidden agendas rather than welcoming efficient cross-functional collaboration and problem-solving. Organizational silos are the root cause of most workplace problems and are why many never get resolved. This is why today’s new workplace must embrace an entrepreneurial spirit where employees can freely navigate and cross-collaborate to connect the problem-solving dots; where everyone can be a passionate explorer who knows their workplace dot and its intersections. When you know your workplace dot, you have a much greater sense of your sphere of influence. This is almost impossible to gauge when you operate in silos that potentially keep you from having any influence.
3. Open-Minded People
Breaking down silos and communication barriers requires people to be open-minded.
In the end, problem-solving is about people working together to improve the organization and the people it serves. Therefore, if you are stuck working with closed-minded people, practical problem-solving becomes a long, winding road of misery. Many people in the workplace enjoy creating unnecessary chaos so that their inefficiencies are never exposed. These types of people (loafers and leeches) make solving problems difficult because they slow the process down while trying to make themselves look more substantial. Open-minded people see beyond the obvious details in front of them and view risk as their best friend. They tackle problems head-on and move forward with the business of driving growth and innovation. Close-minded employees turn things around to make it more about themselves and less about what is required to convert a problem into a new opportunity.
4. A Solid Foundational Strategy
Without a strategy, change is merely substitution, not evolution. A solid strategy must be implemented to solve any problem. Many leaders attempt to dissect a problem rather than identify the strategy for change within the problem itself. Effective leaders who are comfortable with problem-solving always know how to gather the right people, resources, budget, and knowledge from past experiences. They inspire people to lift their game by making the problem-solving process highly collaborative; for them, it’s an opportunity to bring people closer together. I’ve always believed that you don’t know a person’s true potential and character until you see how they solve problems. Influential leaders connect the dots and map out a realistic action plan. Their strategy is the foundation for how the problem will be approached and managed. They anticipate the unexpected and utilize the strengths of their people to ensure the strategy leads to a sustainable solution.
Never shoot from the hip when problem-solving. Avoid guessing. Take enough time to step back and assess the situation and the opportunities each problem represents. Make the problem-solving process more efficient by recognizing that each problem has nuances that may require a distinct strategy toward a viable resolution.
You know that your organization has outstanding leadership when problem-solving becomes a seamless process that enables the people and the organization to grow and improve. If problem-solving creates chaos, you may have a severe leadership deficiency.
The 4Ward Consulting team has helped several hundred operations effectively increase problem-solving to lead them to success. If we can be of assistance to you and your team, please give us a call.
Ben Hershey is CEO of the 4Ward Consulting Group, LLC team. When the industry needs an actual expert, they turn to 4Ward Consulting Group team. 4Ward Consulting Group is the leading provider of Management and Manufacturing Consulting to the Structural Component and Lumber Industry. A Past President of SBCA, Ben has owned and managed several manufacturing and distribution companies and is Six Sigma Black Belt Certified. Ben has consulted hundreds of Component Manufacturers, Lumber Dealers, and Millwork Operations in the past seven years. You can reach Ben at ben@4WardConsult.com or 623-512-6770.