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Member Exchange - Problem Solving

We can all benefit from having good problem solving skills as we all encounter problems on a daily basis; some of these problems are obviously more severe or complex than others.

In the workplace problem solving is an important part of any job. The skill with which we solve problems has a direct impact on our professional effectiveness. So let’s consider what problems have you solved recently? How have you handled them?

Although we are not always conscious of a method used, most of us follow simular steps to solve problems.  It is useful to increase our consciousness of these steps and apply a variety of proven problem solving techniques to ensure we are consistently solving problems effectively. Using the following process can improve our effectiveness in problem solving:

The problem solving process:


  1. Identify the problem and establish objectives

This step is the most important and often the most difficult. It can be easy to jump into solution mode and spend surplus time looking for answers rather than having clarity on what the problem really is. Try to state the problem in a single sentence and ensure not to confuse the symptoms, the causes and the problem.

To establish objectives think about the result you want. Compare where you are now and where you would like to be and be clear in what you are setting out to achieve.


  1. Analyse the problem to determine its cause

In this step it’s important to gather facts, ideas and opinions of others that may help in your analysis and assess the information without prejudice, preconceived ideas, or emotion to effectively determine the problems cause.

A technique used to uncover the main cause to the problem is to ‘ask why’ five times. Here is a ‘why’ chain for high employee turnover:

Why?     Is there high employee turnover

Why?     I’ve hired the wrong people

Why?     I’m not applying recruitment and selection techniques

Why?     I’m not confident in them

Why?     I need more training

We can determine from this chain the likely causes of this problem are poor selection and poor induction.


  1. Generate alternative solutions

A choice of options needs to be considered in problem solving. To find the best option, you must consider several solutions so you will be less likely to overlook the best course of action. Work on eliminating the cause of the problem and not just covering up its symptoms. Use brainstorming, creative thinking and ask others what they think to get the ideas flowing.


  1. Evaluate the alternatives and select the most suitable

To evaluate your alternative solutions consider the advantages and disadvantages of each. Remember the best solution will normally be the one with the most advantages and the fewest disadvantages. Ensure the most suitable option best meets your objectives set out in step 1.


  1. Implement the decision

Now is the time to plan carefully how to implement your decision. Use the “who, how, what where, why and when” prompts to develop your plan. Consider what could go wrong and how you will monitor to ensure your decision is working and how you will communicate your decision to those impacted.


  1. Follow up and evaluate results

Routine follow up checks will ensure that you have solved the problem. Check the symptoms again- have they gone? Take corrective action where necessary.


In summary, to continue to grow your problem solving skills and build your personal effectiveness keep these guidelines front of mind:

  • Adopt a systematic approach
  • Focus of important decisions
  • Avoid making snap decisions
  • Don’t become a victim of analysis paralysis
  • Base your decision on facts
  • Don’t be afraid of making the wrong decisions
  • Learn from your mistakes
  • Use your imagination
  • Resist making decisions under stress
  • Make your decision and then move on