This is the nineteenth installment in our 25-week series exploring the 25 competencies, or soft skills, that our assessments measure. Each week we’ll give you the definition of that competency, explain its value, and give you tips to help you develop it.
This week: Problem Solving.
Problem Solving is defining, analyzing, and diagnosing key components of a problem to formulate a solution. A great problem solver takes the time to deeply analyze the issue at hand to uncover the root cause and then creates a plan to solve it. They don’t just cure the symptoms of an issue. They take out the entire sickness.
Good Problem Solving involves identifying a particular problem and isolating its components. Then isolating what part of the problem needs to be solved. In most cases, there are key components of any problem and there are very specific solutions to each component. Those good at Problem Solving are able to take apart an issue and examine each component before deciding where to start their efforts. They look into each aspect of the problem and decide which areas are truly to blame and start solving those first.
Great problem solvers also don’t assume what the best response will be until they’ve completed this analysis. They know that you can’t use a one size fits all approach, so they have many different problem solving tools in their toolbox. Problem Solving can be hampered by placing too much focus on one method of problem solving. A person may try to place all of the pieces of the problem into a predefined structure. In this situation, if the components aren’t classified correctly, the pieces won’t fit into the predefined structure. And they won’t identify an effective solution.
Problem Solving is an incredibly useful skill in any role.
Everyone faces problems every day. And being able to effectively and efficiently troubleshoot those issues can make your life much easier. Those who are good at Problem Solving are better able to anticipate what issues might arise and plan ahead for them, thus minimizing their impact. This foresight can sometimes avoid those complications altogether. It comes from their ability to truly understand problems and how they arise.
In the worst unanticipated problem scenarios, you can at least save yourself time and effort by clearly defining your problem first. If you are not sure what the root of your problem really is, or if you do a poor job of defining the problem, you will have a difficult time planning effective action steps to resolve the problem.
Effective Problem Solving requires that you look at each problem as an interrelated series of events or activities. A system in which one or more components are negatively affecting the whole. Problem Solving involves identifying the component that is causing an error. And then developing options for solving the problem. And completing the task.
A person with a good score in this capacity can collectively utilize multiple capacities and talents to analyze all aspects of a problem from identification to resolution. This person will recognize that there are different levels of the causes of problems. The obvious, on-the-surface causes. And latent causes of problems. Such as what’s under the surface, in the background, or coming back up from the past.
A person with a poor score has an inability to isolate the process in which the error occurs. And to then identify the components of the process that need changing to correct the problem. This inability can occur because the person is unable to properly subdivide a process into sub-component processes.
To improve your Problem Solving, take the time to find the root cause.
The most difficult aspect of problem solving is identifying the true source of the issue. If you don’t take the time to find the root cause, you’ll just be spinning your wheels. You can spend your entire day putting out fires. But while you may quench the flames, you don’t extinguish the embers. Leaving them ready to spark again in the future.
For instance, let’s say that sales at your organization are down, the quick solution is to cut prices – have a sale. This solves the symptom of fewer sales, but what is the real issue?
- Sales person performance or accountability?
- Sales compensation structure?
- Product design or quality?
- Sales hiring and training?
- Competition in the marketplace?
- Poor customer service or delivery?
Getting a sale in the door may solve the short-term problem of needing more revenue. But it doesn’t help the long-term profitability of your company. Treating and addressing the symptoms is easy as they are right in front of you. The harder task is to stop and identify the root issue.
The next time you face a problem, stop and dig into the true cause of the issue. Look past the symptoms to discover the stem of the problem and then solve that. Gather information about the problem from any resources you have at your disposal. Re-read relevant memos. Ask your leaders and co-workers for their perceptions of the problem. You may even need to look for information from people outside your organization.
Do whatever you need to in order to make sure that you are fully extinguishing the fire. And not just dampening the flames for today.
Improving your Problem Solving will save you time, energy, and money.
Being an effective problem solver can help you and your company in innumerable ways. Not the least of which is being able to solve problems successfully the first time around. This saves you the time and headache of dealing with the same issue on a different day. That way you and your team are not wasting your precious time and resources resolving the issue you thought you had already put to bed. As mentioned above, this all comes down to the ability to solve the true root cause of the problem.
Successful, sustainable enterprises have the ability to identify and correct the root cause of issues. This frees them up to focus on their most important initiatives. Instead of always being stuck in firefighting mode. If you want to help your company grow, you have to get better at removing the obstacles to that growth. And removing them permanently.
If you’d like to learn more ways to develop your Problem Solving skills, download our Problem Solving Rx PDF here.
Written in part by TTI Success Insights.