THE CRITICALITY OF BEING ABLE TO SOLVE PROBLEMSFeb 11, 2022
There is no organisation that has no problems.
Every organisation is faced with a range of challenges – some of them are problems that impede their efforts to deliver their objectives – and some are opportunities that also generate problems associated with adaptation, adoption, acceptance, and integration.
Organisations, because of their differing contexts, different skills, different cultures, and different objectives, have different ways of dealing with these challenges – some very effective, and some not so much.
To be clear, solving problems is about understanding the cause of problems and identifying the solution that resolves the problem while simultaneously assisting the organisation in the pursuit of its objectives.
Implied in this understanding, is the implementation of the solution, as without the implementation, the problem still remains.
It would be convenient if the leader could solve every problem that confronted the organisation – but that is not only unrealistic, this concept is also unhelpful for the organisation’s strength, resilience, and perpetuity.
This means that organisations need ways of dealing with problems that are systematic, logical, workable, objective, predictable, and supported by its people. This is so that as solutions are developed, the organisation’s people and other stakeholders can rely on them.
So, what is the role of a leader in an environment that is constantly challenged with multiple problems?
The leader’s role is to:
- Keep an open and objective mindset at all times.
- Be a dynamic listener.
- Suppress their own ego.
- Recognise that good ideas can come from anywhere, and not just from management.
- Engage with people for whom the problem, its solution, and its impacts are important.
- Ensure the focus is always on solving a problem in a way that it enhances the organisation’s objectives.
Barriers to problem resolution
Solving problems effectively is not easy. It’s relatively easy to find a solution, any solution, but ensuring that it is the best solution or the solution option that best assists achieving the organisation’s KPOs is a harder challenge.
The challenge is made much harder because of a wide range of barriers that affect understanding, process, and solution formation. Some of these include the following.
- Culture has an important impact as we discuss later. When you have a “blame culture”, it’s difficult to look at a problem without assigning blame to someone.
In that type of environment, dealing with the blamed person is a significant part, if not all of the “solution” and the cause of the problem is often glossed over.
Blame cultures tend to disincentivise people from sharing knowledge, experience, and understanding in case it reflects badly on them.
If the leadership tends to blame, then it will pay the price for this by finding problem resolution is much harder than it can be or ought to be, and that’s the responsibility of leadership.
- Subjectivity is a force, a bias, or a prejudice that entices people to look at an issue or problem from a personal perspective – how they feel about matters, rather than how it affects others and the organisation.
Subjectivity is opposed to empathy. The subject person is imposing their biases and prejudices, while the empathic person is sensing the position, views, and feelings of others.
Giving your own view based on your own experiences is one thing but imposing your views on a situation that confronts facts is another issue entirely.
To be blunt, if some of the problem solutions teams are narcissists, then the team will struggle understanding the cause of issues (because they actively escape responsibility, especially when things go wrong), and therefore compromising the proposed solution.
This “self-serving” view should not be a surprise to anyone, because it’s a common trait of we humans. As common as it may be, it doesn’t help solving problems.
- Self-interest is different from subjectivity. In this context, self-interest is about interpreting causes of problems to escape their ramifications and constructing solutions that provide personal and role benefits.
The self-interested person may be entirely aware of the actual or factual cause of a problem (i.e., not a bias or prejudice) but they spin the process and its conclusions to secure personal benefits.
For example, if the solution adopts option “A”, then Fred gets additional responsibility. But option “B” gives the self-interested person that responsibility which improves their career and remuneration. They vote for option “B”.
- People with low ethical standards will have little hesitation in adopting solutions that have dubious ethical practices. If this person or people happen to be in leadership roles, then solutions may be somewhat problematic in the longer-term, and may not serve the organisation.
- As with ethical practices, so is legal compliance. Failure to be ensure that all problem solutions are legally compliant will create serious problems.
The illegal treatment of workers for example, (e.g., remuneration, conditions, health, and safety) has serious ramifications under law.
Not only will ramifications be serious, but the adoption of legally problematic solutions and processes may seriously affect the ability of the organisation to achieve its KPOs. The reputational damage can be disastrous.
- People with closed minds fail to see the facts, and such failures make it hard to determine the cause of problems – essential to the development of meaningful solutions.
- Poor data and evidence related to the cause of problems is a real handicap to understanding the nature and severity of problems. The paucity of data is often only discovered when it’s needed – which is often too late.
- The assumptions that people adopt often affect whether certain understandings of the causes of problems are legitimate. Similarly, assumptions about people, functions, processes, and so on also help sculpt solutions – often inappropriately.
When a leader makes a statement based on an incorrect assumption, how do subordinates contest it? Nice challenge.
- Most people yearn for what they know, for the retention of the status quo. The yearning is largely based on a fear of change, and the ramifications on them, their careers, their remuneration, their skill relevance, and so on.
Inevitably, the solution to a problem involves some sort of change. The bigger the impact of the solution, the more likely that people will “push-back” and oppose it, or some of it, because of the ramifications on them.
- People are also resistant to change implied in certain solutions because it forces them to change what they have always done – the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality. Again, it can be a fear of change, or a simple unwillingness to learn a new way of doing things.
- When the people who are charged with resolving a problem have poor or inadequate skills to achieve this, then they possibly won’t have a robust understanding of the problem’s cause and therefore the solution will probably be sub-optimal.
- A significant issue or problem probably impacts a relatively wide range of functions and stakeholders within an organisation and sometimes, external to it.
If any of those stakeholders are excluded from and part of the problem-solving process at which their input was important, then the understanding of cause and the appropriateness of the solution is compromised.
- There are several other common problems that can compromise the problem-solving process including:
o Lack of ownership
o Poor communications
o Poor role definition
o Lack of management commitment (including obstruction and even sabotage)
o Poor or no problem-solving process
o “Not Invented Here” mentality
o Lack of available time and effort to devote to solving the problem
o High staff turnover causing lack of continuity
o Poor staff motivation
o Poor morale and complacency all around
o Jumping to conclusions
o The loudest voice syndrome
o Trust of management capability
o Claiming a problem when there isn’t one
o Pursuit of the enabler instead of the objective
o The organisation’s risk appetite
And this list doesn’t even cover all the things that can go wrong.
When we recognise that different organisations have problem types, different contexts, different skills, and different processes, then it’s easier to appreciate that they probably need differently styled solutions.
On top of that, add some or most of the barriers above and you will appreciate who so much problem solving fails to achieve its objective.
It’s complicated but not impossible.
If you would like to have the initial discussion to see if A&M can assist you, or if you have any questions about our diagnostic and methodology, please contact Dr Jack Jacoby, the Head of Client Satisfaction at [email protected]