AMA
Playbook

Creating A Problem-Solving Environment

January 5, 2017

Problem-solving culture

Managers who practice preventive management encourage problem solving. These managers understand that problems often can be identified—even avoided—in the early stages. They know how important it is to analyze an operation or practice to determine where weaknesses can occur, then shore up those weaknesses or, better yet, develop procedures that do not have such flaws.

In short, these leaders recognize that the best approach to problem solving is to avoid a serious problem in the first place. This isn’t easy to do, but it is possible. To promote early problem detection and better problem solving, take these steps:

  • Create an environment in which employees are encouraged to use their initiative to remedy problems when they occur. Risk is allowed.
  • Undertake problem sensing. Lead employees in using a variety of techniques to locate problems and then determine the root cause, not just a symptom of the problem. Too often, a problem reappears because its symptoms have been the focus of attention.
  • View problems as opportunities and mistakes as progress. This involves turning traditional thinking about problems upside down. With some creativity, problems can lead to opportunities; mistakes in problem solving can be progress toward achieving these opportunities. Leaders can teach creative thinking techniques to stimulate employees’ thinking.
  • Practice techniques that enable you to choose the best solution from several good ones.
  • Communicate solutions to the rest of the organization. The best managers are good corporate citizens who share what their group has discovered to save others in the company from having to reinvent the wheel.

Encourage employee initiative
By allowing employees a more active role in problem solving, you’ll increase their feelings of job satisfaction while freeing yourself to devote attention to planning or other leadership tasks.

The foundations are laid for employees to resolve problems on their own—and regain employee engagement—when the manager includes them in setting goals and developing action plans. If staff members are to address the problems they find as they do their work, they need that information. It helps them to make the right decisions and focus their energy where it will have the greatest return for the organization. However, tapping into mission or goals isn’t always sufficient. And bromides about the value of employee initiative do not constitute a supportive environment for out-of-the-box thinking.

How does a manager create the kind of culture that encourages employees to use their initiative? Try the following:

  • Keep all lines of communication open. The more employees know about deadlines, difficulties with supplies, and the like, the better equipped they are to make intelligent decisions when problems arise.
  • Listen to staff ideas. Make clear that you are interested in their suggestions.
  • Give frequent, objective, and initiative-encouraging feedback. Even if a problem arises when employees use their initiative, don’t dwell so much on that or you may discourage further risk taking. Employees need to be counseled on what specifically they did wrong and what they did right, and coached in general on solving problems.
  • Conduct ongoing training where it is evidently needed. If an employee makes a mistake in solving a problem, you might want to have the person undergo training in the part of the solution where he or she is weak. Or perhaps you want to mentor the individual through that point in the problem-solving process.
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American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.

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