The ability of any leader can often be summarised by the size of the problem they can solve. This is what makes great leaders so valuable to the organisations they work for, they solve problems in their individual areas, that otherwise, would remain unresolved. If you were to ask me what is the number one attribute I look for in an individual when recruiting, its problem-solving. I want these people on my team, people who are happy to get stuck into a problem, find a resolution, and apply that to make our organisation, or the organisations we are working with, better places! Simple.
So what is it that makes people great problem solvers, and in turn, great leaders, and how can you learn to become an effective problem solver? First, I am going to go through the four guiding principles of effective problem solving, then, I will outline seven steps you can take to become an effective problem solver, and a valuable asset to the people you work with, and for.
Principle 1: Vision
Have a clear Vision of what you want to achieve and why it’s important.
Principle 2: Strategy
Devise a solid strategy to pursue what you want to achieve.
Principle 3: Practicality
Look for practical systems or practical ways to go about solving the problem.
Principle 4: Consistency
Commit to consistent execution and remaining committed to the effort- are essential to getting problems solved.
“The majority see the obstacles; the few see the objectives; history records the successes of the latter, while oblivion is the reward of the former.”
— Alfred Armand Montapert, Author
Seven Steps to Being an Effective Problem Solver
The first step to becoming an effective problem solver is to clearly identify the problem. This is done by comparing where you are now to where you want to be. Ask yourself, “How much variation from the standard is tolerable, in relation to where you are now?”.
Next, Evaluate your problem. Is it at the Emergent, Mature, or Crisis Stage? A problem is at the Emergent Stage when it is just beginning, but there is no immediate threat [e.g., the car is low on oil] and time is available to solve it. A problem is at the Mature Stage when damage has occurred, it must be solved, and consequences are greater if it is not addressed soon. A problem is at the Crises Stage if it is so bad that it must be addressed now [e.g., the car is so low on oil that it is smoking].
Now its time to describe the problem. In most cases, try to describe the problem in a premise statement of 12 words or less. Leaders should then seek agreement from others on the premise statement to ensure that the best solution is being pursued. Is the premise correct?
Look for the root cause of the problem. Ask such questions as what caused this problem? Who is responsible? When did it first emerge? Why did it happen? Why did the variance from the standard occur? Where does this problem hurt the most? How can we solve the problem? The most important question you can ask is: “Can we solve this problem in a way that it will never occur again?”
5. Plan B
Develop alternate solutions. Often, there are more solutions to a problem than what immediately comes to mind. Alternate solutions can be found in such places as other companies or related examples from past experience. Develop alternative solutions and then rank them based on such factors as efficiency, cost, long-term value, and available resources to determine what solution is best.
Now is time to make a decision and implement. Implementation considers what could go wrong and how that problem could be corrected if it occurs. The implementation also includes a plan and commitment to keep the chosen course on track.
Once all is said and done ensure you take the time to measure and analyse the results. Did the solution work? Was it a good solution? Did you learn something during implementation that could be applied to other problems?
Don’t panic, there is a lot to take in here, but you don’t have to become the master problem solver overnight. Experience and trial and error are key to becoming a great problem solver.
The key to applying all this knowledge is to take your time when a problem arises to take stock, and correctly apply these steps. Share this process with your teammates, and challenge each other to apply these steps next time a problem arises. Best of all, print this page, and share it around, this means you can ensure you and your team are taking the same approach to a problem when you next face one!