Problem solving is a key leadership skill, and while it might seem like a natural personality trait, you can develop an aptitude for it with practice. It’s a skill that every business should foster in their staff. Without problem solving skills, your company can flounder during times of crisis, when you could be using the time productively to turn the situation around in your favour.
The art of problem solving isn’t just about making issues go away. It’s an opportunity to address inefficiencies and improve business processes. If you want to start improving your analytical skills, here are 5 basic tips to set you on the path to making better decisions:
How to solve problems effectively
1. Dissect the issue
When problems arise, it’s all too easy to have a knee-jerk emotional reaction. This should be avoided at all costs. To effectively problem-solve, you need to keep a cool and objective mindset to analyse the nature of the issue. One of your problem-solving strategies should always be to take the time to find out exactly how the situation occurred in the first place. Were there any warning signs? At what stage was it introduced? If you rush in and try to fire-fight the issue too quickly, you can end up making matters worse.
2. Create a safe space for communication
Communication is essential for creative problem solving; however, it can be hampered by staff anxious about voicing their own opinions. They may be unwilling to speak up if they feel like they can’t point out where management processes have fallen short, or they may not want to identify another person’s failings to spare their feelings. For effective problem solving, a good leader will always create a safe space for transparent discussion and break down inter-departmental barriers. Creating a collaborative environment improves relationships between other areas of the business and brings staff closer together.
3. Identify as many solutions as possible
Most problems in life have multiple solutions and business leaders will always see that as a chance to bring lasting, positive change to the company. At this stage, the most beneficial problem solving technique will be to list as many ways the issue can be resolved and conduct a thorough risk assessment. Use this assessment to prioritise which methods are more achievable, and which will offer the largest rewards. If you only think of a single option, you risk putting all your eggs in one basket. If the situation changes, you always need to think of how the business can adapt. At the same time, any new plans drawn up should emphasise how it will evolve and improve the company.
4. Model your solution
The next creative problem-solving step is to model your solution so that you can visualise how it will work or if there are any aspects you may have overlooked. A test run will prove invaluable for highlighting potential issues. You may find at this stage, that your chosen solution doesn’t work as expected, in which case you can revisit other options drawn up at the brainstorming stage. If you’re happy with your plan, you should also formulate contingencies with your staff if a worst-case scenario happens and an unforeseen problem occurs during your chosen course of action.
5. Implement your solution and monitor results
When you reach a stage where you can implement your solution, it can be beneficial to start with a trial or incremental run to monitor performance. Ask yourself whether it is operating as expected. Could it be improved? What results are you expecting to see? This method will provide you with valuable data on the performance of your business, so if you need to adjust your formula, you can do so and have measurable statistics for comparison.
The problem-solving techniques above touch on basic skills every business leader should have, but you can improve them further by actively practising or enrolling on specialised courses. Every member of staff can learn how business leaders solve problems and will likely find these problem-solving skills as useful in their personal life as they are in the professional arena. Effective leadership is about increasing efficiency in every part of the business, from the way personnel approach issues, all the way to streamlining finance.
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