2 Different Ways to Solve Problems

 In Dispute Resolution, Lessons Learned

Submitted by Rick BakerSpirited Leaders

While the symptoms of many business problems are straightforward, the roots of many business problems are not straightforward. Often the roots of business problems are concealed under a shroud of human behaviour.

To solve business problems we need to do one of two things:

  1. We need to get to their roots and inject remedies at the root level or
  2. We need to replace the existing processes with processes we believe will work.

The more time I spend helping business people remedy serious business problems the more I’m swayed to favour the second approach.

Here are some thoughts about each approach…

Finding the roots of business problems and making changes around those roots in order to remove the problem:

Three things combine to cause business problems. Those three things are people, process, and situations. To the extent you chose the people, designed the processes, and accurately anticipated the situations those people and processes would experience you have ability to understand where things went off course…you have the ability to understand the root cause (or causes) where the problem began (or escalated). All else being equal, the better you know the people, processes, and situations the higher the likelihood you will be able to zero in on the root causes of problems. ‘All else being equal’ assumes there is no people-baggage or ego-challenge that will confound your ability to investigate the causes behind the problems.

Ignoring the root causes of problems and replacing the existing processes that lead to the problem with well-thought-out processes that remove the opportunity for the problem to continue:

When you really stop to think about it, most business processes are simple strings of tasks. The tasks are performed by people or they are performed by machines, which are operated/managed by people. Most business processes happen in a limited number of different situations, which can be anticipated (with forethought). Leaders or managers (either with or without the help of the people involved) can consider the desired outcomes, think through the range of situations, and define the people requirements and the processes required to complete the necessary tasks.

Both approaches to problem solving can generate solutions. If one approach fails then the other can be used as ‘Plan B’.

The question is,

What approach should be pursued first?

Often, newcomers favour the 2nd approach…for the wrong reason. Newcomers want to make their mark and prove what they know. That’s the wrong reason to favour the 2nd approach because proving what you know is almost guaranteed to alienate people and deprive the newcomer the opportunity to understand the details of the processes.

Often, founders or long-term people use only the 1st approach.  Being familiar with the people and the processes founders and long-term people are confident they can quickly get to the roots of problems. Sometimes they achieve quick positive results much like a teacher can help a student correct an answer to a math question. Sometimes their solutions do not work despite their crystal-clear impression the solution is the right solution. When this happens, there’s a high chance the roots of the problems are concealed in shrouds of human behaviour. There’s also a high chance the solution efforts will stall and the problem will live on.

It is important to step back when a serious problem arrives. It is important to consider the best way to address serious problems.

If you are a newcomer, do you want to risk alienating people? Depending on the situation that could be the absolute worst thing to do…or it could be the absolute best thing to do.

If you have been in your role for a long period, do you want to presume you can quickly find the root of the problem? Depending on the situation that could be the absolute worst thing to assume…or it could be the absolute best thing to assume.

The more I help business leaders address their problems, the more I’m inclined to:

  • first, understand the desired outcome
  • next, focus on the situations
  • next, develop a solid process that ensures the desired outcome
  • then, present the new approach in a way that influences people to buy-in

To be clear: while that’s my favoured approach, I know it does not fit certain situations and will not work with certain people.

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