One of a leader’s many jobs is to solve problems. This can be done either by themselves or through their team.
In my experience most problem solving is done in an ad-hoc way. This is fine for the small, incremental problems but for the larger, difficult ones leaders need a more formal process. Here is my suggestion:
1. Define the problem
This is an obvious step but should not be overlooked. Leaders need to ensure they are solving the right problem. Solving a perceived client problem that the client does not care about is a waste of time and creative energy.
2. Identify the information gaps
In this step leaders (and their group) must decide:
- What they know for sure about the problem
- What they think they know
- What they don’t know
For example, if the problem is a downturn in sales, then what they know for sure might include sales this year vs sales last year, the amount spent on advertising and the number of salespeople.
What they think they know might include the effectiveness of their advertising.
And what they don’t know, for example, would be the future actions of the competition.
This step would also be concerned with challenging what is known and what people think they know. Perhaps something the group ‘knows for sure’ (for example, customer satisfaction) after reflection might be better placed in the ‘we think we know’ bucket.
3. Prioritise the information gaps
In this step the leader and the group decide what is the most important information gap they need to address in order to solve the problem. In this example a reduction in the level of customer satisfaction would potentially impact on short- and long-term sales, hence would require a significant investigation.
4. Investigate and action the key priority gaps
In this example, the leadership team should quickly investigate why there is a drop in customer satisfaction and develop an action plan to address the key issues.
By getting used to implementing the process I have outlined here everyone can improve the vital leadership skill of problem solving.