Shortly after graduation from business school, I found myself as the newest, youngest and highest ranking employee in a small company. The number of decisions I had to make on any given day overwhelmed me. I soon realized that decision-making is one of the most important skills a manager can have.
One of the types of decisions we need to make regularly is problem solving. Here are some of the points to consider as you face the never-ending stream of problems:
♦ First and foremost, make sure you really understand the problem. Dig deep so you can address the root cause of the problem, not a symptom.
♦ Do not define the problem as the solution. “We don’t have enough sales people,” or, “We need more office space,” are not problems; they are solutions disguised as problems. What is it that makes us think we need more sales people? How is our current office space limiting us?
♦ Involve others in defining the problem and arriving at a solution. The quality of the decision will be improved and the implementation will be smoother. When someone tells you there is a problem, a great reply would be, “What do you think we should do?”
♦ Distinguish between fact and opinion. “Profits are below budget” might be a fact, but “Our logo is too old” is an opinion. This is not to say that problems built around opinions aren’t real problems, but it can make solving the problem harder.
♦ Define how the solution will be measured. Too often one person solves a problem only to be told that the problem still exists. For example, if the problem is that profits are below budgeting, will it be a solution if profits hit budget in future periods, or do we now need to beat budget to make up for shortfalls in earlier periods?
♦ Remember, being a manager is not a popularity contest. If someone doesn’t like the way you solved the problem, that does not mean you made a mistake.
♦ Learn from problems. What can we do differently from now on that will prevent the problem from reoccurring?
Dave Bartholomew and his wife Nancy are retired and living outside of Leavenworth. The last 14 years of his career were served as a business adviser to leaders around the world. He and Nancy also owned Simply Living Farm, a retailer of goods for a sustainable life. Prior to that he was CEO of several manufacturing companies in the outdoor recreation industry. He has authored three books, written numerous regular columns and taught at many universities.