Problem solving is now recognised as one of the most important capabilities for a successful and sustainable organisation. Traditionally the top level employees within a business ‘solved the problems’ then pushed the ‘solutions’ down to the lower levels. When middle managers, supervisors, team leaders and customer-facing employees implement ‘solutions’ with little buy-in and poor understanding of the actual problem this leads to poor outcomes.
Although problem solving is still very important in upper management, the emphasis has now shifted to empowering every employee to identify and solve problems. When each employee becomes a problem solver and everyone uses a common approach to resolve problems then outcomes are driven from the ‘bottom up’ as well as from the ‘top down’.
PROBLEM SOLVING STEPS
- Define the problem
- Breakdown the problem
- Set targets
- Analyse the root cause
- Develop countermeasures
- Implement countermeasures
- Measure outcomes
Problem solving is an iterative process and is not time-bound. That is, it can be completed in one day, one week or one month depending on priority and urgency.
PROBLEM SOLVING CULTURE
When employees are told what to do they do their work without thinking for themselves (diagram below, on left). When they are faced with a problem they will either tend to ignore it or to work around it. This creates waste within the value chain and ultimately makes your business less profitable (or the customer pays more). Employees think: “This job could be easier”, “I could work more efficiently if ………” or “Why are there so many problems”?
The reality is that employees know their work the best. It means by creating an environment where work can be improved based on employees knowledge and experience will make the work easier and ultimately will reduce waste, time and cost. This ultimately means a stronger, more profitable business and more value for the customer.
So it is vital that employees have the opportunity not only to think for themselves but to also have an agreed process to be able to create change. Problem solving is one of those opportunities. A business which encourages employees to identify problems and then gives them a common process to tackle the problems will not only have more engaged employees but will reduce cost, improve quality and efficiency and be more competitive in the marketplace.