Solutions are not the answer!!

Frank Newberryin Training & Education

FrankNewberry.jpgIn this article Frank previews the highly practical, interactive problem solving process that he will be using on the workshop.

A very straightforward approach to solving work problems

A while back a trainee consultant I was coaching (to be able to help others to solve their work problems) was having difficulty with what I thought was a very straightforward approach to solving work problems.

Within moments of his 'problem owner' (another trainee consultant) identifying his work problem my lad was in his face barking solutions at him: "What you need to do is this" or "When we had a problem like that, we did this". He, like many of us, found it hard to stop himself offering solutions immediately. This approach is often described in negative terms as 'being prescriptive'.

At the time I was reminded of a doctor I went to years ago in London who, whilst I was walking into his consulting room, would already be writing my prescription. It made me smile as he would look up and ask me what the problem was - as he continued to write.

"Would you sign my passport photo please Doctor?" "Certainly" he would reply, pausing to ask if there was anything at all wrong with me. As I turned to leave with what I needed I could hear the prescription being screwed up and tossed into the waste bin.

If we 'write prescriptions' for our friends and colleagues before investigating their problems thoroughly then the waste bin is probably the best place for them.

Everyone in the training room roared with laughter and applauded enthusiastically.

It was when my trainee became more familiar with a very sensible problem solving process that he came up with a response, which we incorporated into all the training programmes we offered to consultants who had a 'working' background as opposed to an 'academic' one.

"Frank" he announced, "I now realise that as far as problems are concerned - solutions are not the answer!". Everyone in the training room roared with laughter and applauded him enthusiastically. What he meant was that 'instant solutions' and 'quick fixes' perhaps have less chance of being successful than an answer that has been crafted as a result of some investigation and analysis.

Let us look now at a simple seven-step process that can be done by individuals, but really comes to life when done in teams, i.e. in your own work team.

Step One: Identify a problem we might be able to do something about

It may not be wise to spend too much time wondering how we can change the weather, but we might be able to tackle some new problems that are being caused by bad weather conditions. If we are working as a team we might need someone to take 'ownership' of the problem e.g. the team member most affected by the problem who has the time and the motivation to tackle the problem.

Step Two: Gather information about the problem

It helps the process if the problem can be expressed as a 'How do I' or 'How do we' statement, such as 'How do we get the new apprentice to get to work on time every day?' At this point the problem solving team has a clear focus and can quickly get started on bombarding the problem owner(s) with questions in order to get the clarity they need. For example 'How long has this been going on?' 'What have you tried already?' 'What worked with other people?' and then the real detail on bus timetables, social habits, alarm clocks working or not, and so on.

Step Three: Identify potential causes

When we have the clarity we need on the problem itself we can start team members, or even people from other departments, generating a list of potential causes for the problem, e.g. 'not used to the early hours', 'unreliable transport', 'up too late at night' etc. On the 18th September workshop in Leicester we aim to get a page full of potential causes or combinations of causes for every problem identified.

Step Four: Identify most likely causes

With a long list of potential causes we can now invite the problem owner(s) to identify the most likely causes of their problem. Perhaps as many as half might be chosen or, at least, seen as being relevant to the situation.

Step Five: Identify potential solutions

When the most likely causes have been identified team members can factor them into their thinking as they generate a list of potential solutions for the problem, e.g. 'invoke the discipline code', 'speak to his parents', 'offer a lift for a trial period' etc. On the workshop in Leicester we aim to supply every participant with a page full of potential solutions or combinations of solutions to pick from for every problem identified.

Step Six: Identify likely solutions

At this point the problem owner(s) are given time to consider which of the many potential solutions have real potential. They are then asked to make a selection and report back to the problem solving team indicating which one(s) they have selected for implementation and why. This feedback helps the team to calibrate the effectiveness of both the process and their ideas for future similar problems.

Step Seven: Implement likely solutions and monitor progress

Finally, team members go their separate ways or get together to implement their preferred solutions or combinations of solutions. Experience has shown that trialling or testing solutions can be more effective than just going along with something you hope is right. As the trial period progresses adjustments can be made as necessary.

This approach is much more encouraging than holding inquests into why a particular solution was not perfect.
It could make sense to involve other people so that we get more ideas

The process is simple and practical and, it could be argued, that we are doing something just like it in our heads all the time. This might be true, but it could make sense to involve other people so that we get more ideas and insights in a logical but quick-fire way. Good luck with solving your work problems and let us all strive to learn a lot more about the problem before we start writing out the prescriptions.

Essential Management Skills for Groundsmen and Greenkeepers

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