Many years ago, I was working with a professional services client. Their revenue had been decreasing for the past 18 months. In this time, no new services lines were introduced. I was told this was the key issue that was stunting growth; a lack of innovation and development. They wanted the senior leadership team to solve this problem by developing new service lines that would turn the business around.
I designed and facilitated the day to solve the ‘innovation’ issue and it “exceeded expectations”. The leaders developed, and subsequently implemented, two new services lines that was seriously impressive. Or so we thought…
Fast forward 12 months; revenue and profit was on the up, but it was barely back to the same position they were in 2.5 years ago. The time, energy and resources it took to drive the two new product lines hardly seemed worth it. People were tired and employee turnover was highest than it had ever been.
I had made my first rookie mistake when it came to facilitating a problem-solving process. I took the problem at face value. I was told it was an innovation issue. Yet what I soon realised, once we gathered further information, was that the services they were providing was not the issue. It was more complicated than that.
The issues were multiple but the key ones were; an ‘old school’ style of leadership that was not engaging their employees. The lack of focus on new systems and poor recognition of employees meant people were not staying and those that were, were just turning up, not going the extra mile.
Problem solving has many layers and themes. Some might include;
· Customer service needing a redirection
· To buy or not to buy a new business
· The decreased engagement in the team or organisation
· Systems and processes are outdated and slowing business
· An outdated performance management system
· The business needs to embrace risk to stay in the game
These are great problems to work through. But too much time, money and resources are wasted by focusing on the wrong ones. It’s like trying to win an archery tournament wearing a blind fold. Way too risky. In more ways than one.
One of the reasons is that we are conditioned to find solutions.
This conditioning starts early. When we are young we are curious, we ask lots of questions. We don’t stop. We can be irritating, especially to our parents. So, they tell us to ‘stop asking so many questions’. Then at school we become obsessed with coming up with the right answer and are graded based on this. We are not encouraged to define the issue or problem in the first place. When we start working we are rewarded for what we solve, not the problems we identify. “Don’t come to me with a problem. Come with a solution” probably rings a bell for most of us.
We become good at solving problems rather than truly understanding the core issues. We band aid issues way too quickly. We might know that people are disengaged through pulse surveys so, we decide to review our salary packaging, or run a fun team day offsite and ‘bond’. However, the core issue of disengagement is not understood. E.g. the leader could be the issue, the employees are not connected to what they deliver, they don’t see the purpose in what they do… or something else. The point is, it’s not diagnosed up front BEFORE we go into solution mode.
Most organisations have a cultural bias for solutions and implementation rather than identification. In a global C-suite study conducted by Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg found that 85% strongly agreed or agreed that their organisations were bad at problem diagnosis, and 87% strongly agreed or agreed that this flaw carried significant costs. Because of their penchant for action, management quickly moved to problem solving rather than accessing the core problem.
Another reason is that we just don’t know how to get to the source.
We don’t know the right questions to ask, the best data to gather, where the intelligence is to be found, nor the most appropriate people to include. According to Harvard Business Review a ‘strategic off-site’s success is largely determined by what happens before it convenes’. That’s when the quality of the conversations are focused on the right issues, in the right order.
If you want to make sure you solve right problems, with your key people, as one, then ask us about our fabulous new problem-solving program called ‘Decisionate’.