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The Solutions You Need Before You Solve the Problem

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in Remarkable Leadership with Kevin Eikenberry

There are hundreds of companies and consultants offering a wide range of approaches to help individuals and teams solve problems. These approaches range from the high level and pretty straight forward to the very advanced, detailed and data driven. Any of them will help, and if you use good judgment about how much detail your particular problem requires (you likely don’t need NASA-level problem solving for fixing late shipments to one Customer), they will all help you get better solutions.

But in my experience they all leave a few things out, or at a minimum assume you already have these factors under control. And all of these factors have something in common — they come before you start solving.

Here are the first four things to do in your problem solving process:

  • Reframe the situation.
  • Believe the solution will come.
  • Remove the blame.
  • Focus on the remedy.

Reframe the Situation

Often we start problem solving in the wrong frame of mind, both individually and collectively. As I mentioned at the beginning of the newsletter, without problems, you might not have a job. In that way problems are a blessing (when did you last think of a problem that way?). Beyond that, problems, when they are solved, are an opportunity to learn, an opportunity to improve, and an opportunity to salvage or revive a relationship with a Customer (and much more). Sounds like a better way to think about them than, “Oh great, what is the problem this time?”

Think about your own past. I’m guessing some of your most proud moments come when you have overcome obstacles (i.e. solved problems) in order to achieve something. The fact is that problems help us become our best selves. Reminding yourself and your team of this at the start can make a bigger difference than you might realize.

Believe the Solution Will Come

Have you ever looked at a problem and thought “there is no way to fix this?” Since I am sure your answer is yes, take a second to think about a specific time you felt that way.

How successful were you in solving that problem?

Or even if you don’t feel that way, if there are others involved in the solution-finding process that think it is “impossible,” the progress toward solution is definitely impeded.

It may sound like positive thinking hokum to you, but it is completely true. If we don’t believe we can find a solution we won’t be diligent, we won’t be as focused and we may not find any solutions. Or at best, the solutions we find are half-hearted and don’t address the full problem. After all, if it can’t be solved …

Belief alone isn’t enough, but it is an important early step in the process. As a leader, we must model that belief and help others to believe too.

Remove the Blame

It is human nature to notice or become aware of a problem and immediately move to placing blame. While we will eventually want to identify the root causes of the problems, time spent at the start blaming others isn’t productive. It is true that people are involved in the creation of problems and there are likely things they could have done differently, but the point is rarely about the people as much as the process they are operating in.

Perhaps even more importantly, if energy is spent early in assigning blame, people will be far less forthcoming with the problems (as a form of self-preservation). Inevitably, problems hidden or masked, grow, creating bigger problems, more blame and more mistrust later.

As a leader, make sure you are removing blame and moving others past blame and towards solution. Which moves us to our next step …

Focus on the Remedy

A problem solver extraordinaire, Henry Ford put it like this: “Don't find fault. Find a remedy.” All three points above help us get out of your own head and away from what diverts our focus from what matters most — the solution itself. Time spent worrying and blaming don’t help us solve anything. When we get those things right we can get on to solving the problem much more effectively and efficiently.

All of this advice falls into the category of the profound wisdom to “go slow to go fast.” Yes, your problems need solutions. Yes, the sooner the better. But if we don’t do the right things first, our activity at the start might not get us to the accomplishment we want at the end quite so quickly.

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