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Effective Problem Solving Requires A Systematic Approach

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Effective problem solving in a complex world and in times of uncertainty demands a systematic approach that allows managers to be fair and consistent in the solutions they create. As both customers and employees are placed under more and more pressure to produce, problem-solving skills take on a heightened significance.

Effective problem solving requires that managers use a systematic approach rather than their intuitive judgment alone. Studies have shown that managers make more accurate judgments when they use such an approach for resolving problems and making critical decisions.

Many of the problems managers must resolve involve customers and can impact their business. The use of a systematic problem solving approach ensures that managers will consider all aspects of the issue before making decisions. Additionally, an established system is more efficient and effective than spending hours in unorganized thought considering the dimensions of an issue and creating a possible solution.

As resolving issues requires a series of determinations to arrive at a successful conclusion, it follows that successful problem solving is not possible without effective decision making. When encountering a problem the following techniques should be utilized:

Identify Primary Issues

Often problems are stated in terms describing symptoms rather than root causes. It is a common pitfall for managers to react to these symptoms and take action to resolve them without identifying their underlying causes. To avoid this misstep, managers should stand back and examine the problem to identify actual causes and the degree of difficulty involved in resolving the issue.

Identification of the primary issue is key to the rest of the resolution process. If not properly identified, the manager can waste valuable time and resources on inapplicable solutions.

Frame the Problem

Framing is another word for structuring the problem. Once the preliminary issue has been identified, framing allows the manager to structure the problem in the proper context, identifying the resources and potential solutions that may need to be employed. It should be noted that how a problem is framed does create a bias toward one solution over another. For instance, in terms of accounts, compare, “How can this problem be solved without impacting my profitability?” to “How can this problem be resolved to the customer’s complete satisfaction?” One solution is clearly customer focused while the other is internally focused. The solutions framed by both questions will produce markedly different results.

Gather Information

The third phase of problem solving is the gathering of facts and information to clearly define the extent of the problem and point to the causes. One pitfall managers must be cognizant of is not to discount information that challenges their perceptions and personal biases.

The key to information gathering is to go about it in a systematic manner that allows facts and data to be developed in an organized fashion.

Identify and Prioritize Potential Solutions

As information and data are organized, correlated and analyzed, a series of possible solutions should begin to emerge. When able, managers should use brainstorming techniques with all of the involved parties to identify several paths to take. At this point, limiting factors and other criteria should not be considered. The key is to flesh out ideas and concepts, group them and develop a final series of potential solutions to be considered.

Once the list of all potential solutions has been created, the manager should examine the feasibility of each in regard to time, cost, ease of use, satisfaction and any other important criteria. Solutions should then be ranked from best to worst.

Agree on Optimal Solution

The ideal solution is the one that is acceptable to all parties. The top one or two potential solutions should be considered and modified to meet the needs of all concerned. A win-lose solution may be expedient, but will create ill will in the long-term; as such, where possible it is always better to arrive at a win-win solution.

Assimilate Lessons

The final aspect of problem solving often overlooked by managers is the ability to assimilate the lessons learned from the situation and to refer back to those lessons when a similar problem arises.

Managers need to establish a system to learn from the results of their past decisions. This may require that they periodically spend several hours, once or twice a year, to review those decisions and their subsequent impact and ramifications on their business.

Excerpt: Problem Solving: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 18.95 USD

Related:

Decision-Making Begins When an Action Needs to Be Taken

Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Offering Answers

Six Critical Issues To Consider When Solving Problems

For Additional Information the Author Recommends the Following Books:

Developing Critical Thinking Skills: The Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Conflict Resolution: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Series

Intelligent Decision Making: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series

Planning to Maximize Performance: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

With Conflict Resolution Nothing is Straightforward and Simple

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The style of problem solving and conflict resolution is the most important factor in determining group effectiveness. Research has shown that the predominant mode of conflict resolution that characterizes leadership and management groups is the most significant variable in determining whether or not companies are profitable.

The manner in which managers resolve problems and overcome conflict within their organizations may appear of little consequence as long as the problem is solved and the conflict is eliminated. However, managers must understand the group dynamics that impact solutions and their consequences.

There are various modes of conflict resolution that come into play in the workplace. Some define the group by the norms accepted. Other styles of conflict resolution may be appropriate to the circumstances surrounding the problem. Nothing is straightforward and simple.

It is important for managers to understand the complexity of problem solving and conflict resolution. There are specific methods and techniques that managers should use and apply to be consistently effective. However, they should recognize there are other styles of conflict resolution that can be more effective, depending upon the circumstances and the makeup of the individuals involved. Managers must learn to recognize all modes and when they are best applied.

There are a variety of conflict resolution modes that managers will find to be common in the workplace. It should be noted that most groups often act in ways that contain one or more of these styles in their efforts to deal with conflict:

Smoothing and Avoiding

These groups tend to be comprised of accommodating individuals who, when a problem or conflict occurs, will tend to define it in a manner that minimizes the differences between individuals. Their objective is to maintain the status quo within the group. As a whole, this method of conflict resolution is destructive because it does not address the central issues or actually resolve the sources of conflict. Consequently, these issues tend to fester within the group and will emerge later as a larger issue.

The group norms that identify the smoothing and avoiding behavior include individuals who tend to withdraw when attacked in order to avoid conflict. Additionally, individual group members tend to keep their feelings and remarks in check so that they don’t surface. This effectively masks internal conflict and prevents the manager, as well as the group, from identifying the undercurrents that are present.

Confronting and Problem Solving

This form of conflict resolution represents the healthiest behavior. The members of this group tend to be collaborators. They will define the problem relative to the total organization’s needs versus their own. The outcomes of this group are interdependent if the total group benefits from the solution.

The group norms that identify the confronting and problem solving behavior include individuals who feel it is important to bring out and confront the differences of opinion and perspective within the group. They also feel that all solutions to conflict should be open and fair to all involved and to the organization as a whole. The group will tend to arrive at answers and solutions by reason rather than the application of personal power and authority.

Confronting and problem solving behaviors are generally the most effective mode for resolving group conflicts.

Bargaining and Forcing

This form of conflict resolution behavior favors and is beneficial to specific power groups and personal agendas. It takes a winning-at-all-costs slant that positions one group against another. The problems tend to be defined in terms of the stakes of each group. The participants and the atmosphere are confrontational and adversarial. The outcome favors one group at the expense of all others.

The group norms that typify bargaining and forcing behaviors include individuals who will seize the advantage whenever possible and compromise when the advantage is the other group’s. Individuals will tend to maximize the benefits for themselves over the other individual members.

Excerpt: Conflict Resolution: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 17.95 USD

Related:

Unresolved Conflict is Corrosive to Leadership

The Challenge of Handling Conflict

“Dissent, Even Conflict Is Necessary, Indeed Desirable”

Handling Workplace Complaints, Concerns and Issues

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Approach Problems in a Professional, Logical and Systematic Manner

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A critical element of business is building relationships that ultimately result in partnerships. As all relationships have problems, the successful employee knows how to handle these issues efficiently and professionally in order to keep relationships productive. Constructive interaction resolves problems to everyone’s satisfaction, which builds good will and trust. The resulting solid relationships can provide the companies with the elusive edge in highly competitive markets.

Many employees are placed on the defensive when faced with a problem. Rather than diagnosing a problem logically, they react emotionally.

There are several types of problems that confront employees, many of which stem from deficiencies in the performance of a product or service. Customers can also create fictitious problems in an effort to gain an advantage in their business relationships. Additionally, there are perceived problems: situations where nothing is actually amiss, but for one reason or another the customer perceives a problem. While any issue—internal or external, real or perceived—can be trying, in all cases the employee must maintain his or her composure and approach the problem in a professional, logical and systematic manner.

People realize that in an imperfect world they will encounter problems. However, it is not the situation itself that tends to cause difficulties, but how the employee reacts to it. Surveys have indicated that a rapid, helpful response and resolution to an issue can strongly bind a customer to the company and employees to each other, whereas a sloppy and slow response can result not only in losing valued employees and customers, but also in turning them into activists that will do anything to undermine the business.

The next time managers are faced with a problem, they can follow the systematic approach outlined below, bearing in mind that speed is indispensable to problem solving.

Identify the Problem

Employees and customers will no doubt bring problems to light without being prompted. The identification of an issue allows the manager to begin a diagnosis and gauge the potential impact of the situation. This step affords the opportunity to establish the importance of the situation and determine how fast to respond.

Define Parameters

Once the issue is identified, it is up to the manager to distinguish the real cause of the problem. Many complaints are either symptomatic of a larger problem or point to other unresolved departmental issues; still others are wholly unrelated to the company’s product or service. The manager will need to define the problem by probing and asking pertinent questions in order to discover needs, expectations and the ultimate reasons behind the problem.

Qualify the Problem

When qualifying, the manager is determining where responsibility for the problem lies. Often when an employee or customer voices a complaint, they place the blame on parties that have little or no responsibility for the problem.

In terms of accounts, a flooring retailer, recounting the instance of a customer coming into his store and vocally complaining about the carpet she bought and its installation, disclosed that upon further examination it was found the customer had purchased the carpeting from a cut-rate competitor and had it installed by an incompetent handyman. She wasn’t a customer, but felt compelled to tell someone, and the only one available was this retailer. It wasn’t his problem, but he was able to turn this ugly situation into a new and happy account.

Quantify the Problem

When quantifying the problem, the manager is defining the size and scope of the situation and zeroing in on the ultimate impact the issue will have on the business. For example, a small order of a critical product can literally shut down a production line. It is up to the manager to identify the extent of the problem and the resulting impact on their employees’ and/or customers’ situation. All too often employees minimize what appears to be a small problem, but in fact has a significant impact. Managers must be careful when dealing with such issues, as how they are handled can ultimately determine future outcomes.

Examine the Problem

During the examining phase, the manager is identifying the source and potential causes of the problem. Decision makers need to examine what has happened, why, and who is responsible for the problem. The process should not be a fault-finding expedition, but a search for the genuine causes of the problem.

In terms of customers, examination includes identifying whether issues such as late delivery, a manufacturing defect, faulty materials or a lack of education caused the problem. The goal is to determine where the ultimate problem lies as well as examine the options that are available to resolve the immediate problem.

Resolve

Once causes have been identified, the problem can be solved to all parties’ satisfaction. Managers who attempt to minimize difficulties at this critical juncture are only hurting themselves. A successful company will do anything to correct a problem, whether internal or external, in a satisfactory and timely manner. Any extra expense will be readily recouped in future productivity and business; failure to follow through with an adequate resolution will build considerable barriers to productivity. The time and money required to thoroughly address a problem are minimal when compared to the productivity gains and repeat business represented by happy employees and customers.

Report Findings

Findings should be reported to senior management so that the cause of the problem can be remedied and a record made in order to avoid its recurrence. The manager’s findings should not spark recriminations, but positive changes within the company that will prevent this type of situation from arising again. These adaptations should allow the company to grow, prosper and thrive while making the manager’s job easier.

No one wants to have to continually solve the same problem with different employees or accounts, as this ultimately undermines the manager’s credibility and the reputation of the company.

Related:

Six Critical Issues To Consider When Solving Problems

Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

Encourage Questions to Improve Open Communication

Decision-Making Begins When an Action Needs to Be Taken

Excerpt: Problem Solving: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 18.95 USD

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

February 13, 2013 at 10:50 am

Conflict Is More Than Simply ‘Not Getting Along’

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Conflict is commonplace within any organization. Whenever individuals of diverse interests and backgrounds interact with each other, discord will arise. In some management circles, this friction is viewed negatively; however, when effective conflict resolution techniques are applied, productive agreements can be reached. This strengthens both individual personal relationships and the organization as a whole.

Conflicts should be considered part of the normal business environment. They arise because managers build teams consisting of diverse people with different abilities. This is what brings a sense of balance to the team and facilitates a synergy created by a unit that is greater than the sum of its parts. Yet even when a team is developed with productive synergy, conflict will arise.

The key to effective conflict resolution is to view it as an opportunity, not just as a sign that a problem exists within the organization. A team created with a productive synergy brings many diverse viewpoints and perspectives to a situation or problem. While conflict enters in when these perspectives clash with one another, this is the opportunity to stimulate a healthy debate around the issues and build a consensus.

The problem many managers have is that some individuals loathe conflict and prefer to run from it, which confines them to a play-it-safe world where little is accomplished or learned. Additionally, the conflicts are allowed to fester, resulting in long-term problems that will at some point need resolution.

When managers encounter conflict within their organization, there are four critical factors that they need to be cognizant of to assure that the situation can be resolved successfully. These are:

Resolution

While conflict presents a healthy opportunity for an organization to grow, all parties involved in the dispute must possess the right attitude if the situation is going to be resolved, which won’t happen without a healthy outlook.

If both parties don’t want to arrive at a resolution, it won’t happen until someone intervenes; however, the conflict can still continue to fester if one or both parties feel the outcome was forced.

Personal Agendas

Often when conflict occurs, personal differences, agendas and feelings about past problems arise and interfere with the resolution. Until all parties are willing to put these issues aside and look beyond them and at common issues and concerns, the conflict will not be resolved.

All parties must ask themselves what is more important to them: clinging to their personal opinions and perceived injuries, or working together to solve a problem or issue that is important to the organization and ultimately to each individual involved in the conflict?

Communication

Within the context of conflict resolution, true communication must take place. This process requires doing more than just persuasively arguing for one point of view over another; it requires proactive listening to learn and appreciate the other person’s needs and concerns.

Before any successful resolution can take place, all parties’ needs and concerns must be addressed. Thus, effective communication is the key to effective management and organizational health.

Dedication to the Success of the Relationship

The manager’s goal in conflict resolution must go beyond merely keeping the peace and averting a crisis. Rather, they must foster a productive relationship between the individuals involved in order to build positive momentum.

If managers want this momentum to be successful and enduring, resolution must be dedicated to the success of the relationship, and not to the fulfillment of one group’s wishes over another. All parties must stay focused on what is good for the organization rather than on the quest for power and advancement of their personal agendas.

The key is to face the problem, separate the parties involved from it, and then commit to resolving the matter in a way that meets all participant needs. Conflict can develop into an opportunity for all parties to grow while simultaneously advancing the organization.

Related:

How Employees Handle Conflict

The Stronger the Personal Feelings, the Less Likely Any Agreement Will Occur

Unresolved Conflict is Corrosive to Leadership

Excerpt: Conflict Resolution (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 17.95 USD

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Resolving Negative Employee Behaviors Takes the Right Solution

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The easiest and most obvious solution to a behavioral problem is for the manager to arbitrarily pick a solution that he or she deems appropriate to resolving the problem. However, this does not take into account the motivational issues that can affect the final outcome.

A poorly chosen solution can compound rather than solve a problem, especially if the employee is resistant to the idea.

When confronted with an employee’s behavioral or attitude problem, the manager has several choices to make. If the problem is serious enough, termination is an option; yet with the high cost of recruiting and training, this may not be the best option.

However, dealing with negative behaviors and attitudes present sticky motivational problems of their own.

There may be resentment on the part of the employee concerning any solution presented to them. Often the best approach is to involve the employee in the development of the solution. When the employee is involved, they gain ownership of the solution, which insures that they will actively and successfully be involved in its implementation.

Additionally, they are privy to the process and see that a solution is arrived at in a fair and just manner, not arbitrarily. These steps minimize the motivational problems associated with the resolution of the problem and make it easier for the manager to work with the employee during the implementation phases.

Arriving at an appropriate and effective solution to remedy negative behaviors and attitudes need not take an inordinate amount of time. However, it should be done in a systematic manner so that the employee is actively involved in the process, can readily see how the solution has been arrived at, and understands it serves the interests of all involved.

The following steps should be adhered to during the resolution process:

Brainstorming

The most practical approach to developing a workable and effective solution to a problem is through brainstorming. In these instances the manager is limited to brainstorming ideas and solutions with the employee who has the problem and with other managers and superiors who are aware of the problem.

This problem solving approach produces specific benefits by identifying all possible solutions from every perspective. Additionally, it includes the employee in the resolution of the problem. Empowering them by giving him or her ownership of the solution, gives the employee a vested interest, realizing a successful outcome.

Both the manager and employee should list every possible solution—even those that appear unlikely or impractical. Nothing should be dismissed without careful consideration; otherwise a negative atmosphere as opposed to an open-minded approach to a solution will be created.

Selection Criteria

Obviously not every choice brainstormed will be practical or feasible. However, before any idea is discarded, both the manager and employee should identify the criteria that will be used to evaluate each possible solution.

Criteria should be established according to specific parameters that result in the successful resolution of the problem. These might include the cost, timeliness, time frames, effectiveness and total resolution of the problem so that it does not occur again. Other criteria can be selected that assist both parties in achieving the overall goal.

Bracketing Choices

Once the manager and employee have agreed upon the criteria, it is an easy task to filter all of the choices developed through brainstorming and to bracket the specific options meeting the selection criteria. All other options are eliminated from consideration.

Since the employee is actively participating in this process, they can see the logic of the decisions that will impact them, which eliminates resistance to the final resolution.

Prioritize and Select the Best Option

The bracketing of possible solutions will typically identify several options to resolve a problem. Both the manager and employee should reach a consensus and prioritize each of the solutions in order of their effectiveness.

Invariably, the employee will not wish to see specific options chosen since they are not in their best interest or will take more effort than they are willing to invest. This is why a consensus should be reached as to what will ultimately constitute the best choices for a solution.

The final step is to choose the best solution to the problem, one that satisfies both management and the employee while solving the problem.

Related:

Six Ways to Turn a Poor Performer Around

Unresolved Conflict is Corrosive to Leadership

Seven Proactive Steps to Take to Deal With a Problem Employee

Excerpt: Negative Workplace Attitudes (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 18.95 USD

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

A Team’s Foundation is Built Upon Structure and Focus

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Problems can arise throughout team development and management, but leaders must pay particular attention to the structure and focus of the team. There are many potential pitfalls associated with establishing a team’s mission and focus. These foundational problems can linger and hinder the team’s performance.

Teams can encounter many problem areas during their tenure, but most challenges arise during the establishment of the team. Without a strong foundation that includes a focus, a mission, rules, boundaries and objectives, teams will encounter chronic problems.

It is important for leaders to understand that team productivity will be diminished without a firm foundation. From the outset leaders must invest time and effort in team development to ensure long-term success. This process includes establishing a clear understanding of what to avoid to prevent future problems.

Quality improvement is a common task given to teams. Organizations with teams in this area often stumble into pitfalls and produce poor outcomes. The selection of the wrong process for a team to work on is the main cause of inappropriately focused teams.

Selection of a Project No One Is Interested in

As organizations assign and develop teams for various projects, one common problem stems from selecting projects neither managers nor team members are concerned about. Consequently, the project will likely die from inattention. Often individual team members are assigned to several teams, and will only focus their attention on the projects they are interested in.

Often the only motive that sustains the effort of the team is the commitment of its members. If uninterested in a project, individuals will resist it, hampering the team’s ability to meet and work together effectively. When leaders develop new teams, the projects they assign should be meaningful to the active team members.

Selecting a Desired Solution

Leaders tend to think they already know which improvements need to be made before a team meets to study a problem, analyze it and make recommendations. Consequently, they pick a solution for the team to consider rather than have it look at the larger quality improvement process. This tendency does not empower teams to come up with changes and improvements, and their creativity is held back. As a result, the most creative and effective solutions may not be brainstormed, recommended, analyzed, studied and considered, and the team’s effectiveness and productivity are diminished.

While the leader’s predetermined changes may in fact turn out to be the best way to proceed, teams should be allowed to arrive at their own conclusions, and be free to recommend actions they determine will yield the greatest success.

Projects in Transition

As companies evolve, many processes and projects are in transition. It is wasteful to assign a team a project or process that is undergoing transition or is scheduled for change. The exception here is if changes occur in a process because of the team. In such a case, the team’s resources can be effectively used to study and evaluate the process and determine the best changes.

Selecting a System

Managers often delegate projects that are too ambitious and that should be broken down into smaller components. Properly focusing teams on particular elements of a project facilitates a better chance of success. In this manner they can concentrate their efforts and make recommendations that are easily implemented. Once improvements are made in one small area, teams can methodically move on to other areas. This method allows them to build on their successes and, ultimately, to impact the entire system.

Improper Framing of the Problem

When problems are properly framed, team operational boundaries are defined. But teams can frame a problem too narrowly or broadly.

Broadly defined problems can create projects that are too vague or difficult to label. Consequently, teams quickly find they have neither the time nor resources to deal with such projects. Potential solutions also become broadly defined, ineffective and difficult to implement.

Narrowly defined problems create ineffective solutions. Tight parameters prevent teams from exploring all aspects of the problem and its possible solutions. The final solution can result in issues and concerns that are ignored but should have been considered.

Related:

Are Your Teams Really Working Groups?

There are Only Three Reasons to Form a Team

How Do Know If Your Teams Are Remaining Strong & Productive

Excerpt: A Team’s Purpose, Function & Use: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 17.95 USD

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

January 3, 2013 at 12:50 pm

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