Have you ever heard, "Don't come to me with a problem unless you have a solution for it"? Oh, but please do. While pretty much every leader wishes to be told about issues, and at the same time being offered solutions on how to fix them, have you thought about what happens if people don’t know the solution?
They will have identified an issue that may be costing money, time, lost opportunities, and causing frustration, don't as they don't have the answer to fixing it, they remain silent, and the problem remains unsolved. It is only when we surface and communicate problems and ask for help to solve them that they can be resolved. The ability to solve problems is also one of the greatest attributes of a good leader. Naturally, leaders should encourage the team to problem-solving and try to find solutions, and not allow all problems to be delegated up for the leader to solve. Sometimes, they just need help.
Another good alternative is of course to just hope the problem goes away. Just kidding - that is never a good alternative, and we both know it.
So, how to tackle these situations? In order to make a problem go away, we need to act. The first thing we can do is stop calling problems "problems", but rather call them "challenges". Now, doesn't that already sound more doable and like an exciting opportunity and something to gain experience from? But honestly, we have both heard that so many times that we know that one alone doesn't cut it.
Eight steps that will take you there
Identify your challenge, as well as the ideal target state very clearly. Take into consideration that different people might have different angles to it - meaning that fixing it for one may not fix it for another.
Look at the stage of your challenge, as it will give you a good understanding of its urgency. If it is just emerging, it will likely not be an immediate threat to your daily operations and thus not urgent (yet). In the next phase, it will start impacting your operations negatively. The last phase is a crisis. While a crisis is an opportunity that should not be wasted (as we spoke about in this post), we should not call for them. In addition to analysing the stage of your challenge, make sure to also have a clear understanding of all the areas that it impacts, how, and how much. This will give you an understanding of whether you have all relevant parties around the table to solve it.
Write a problem statement. No challenge is so complicated that it could not be described in one sentence. If you can't, you will not have understood the essence of it. By summarising the challenge in an as precise way as possible, you will also be able to check with the others if you all have understood it in the same way.
4. Angles vs. interests
It is important to distinguish angles from interests. Interests are the needs of individuals they wish to have fulfilled and their motivators, which are not always aligned with the target of the bigger picture. Different angles on the other hand mean looking at the challenge from a different perspective based on experience and expertise. The latter makes more sense to be guiding your and your team's thinking.
Brainstorming is a good way to start looking for options of solutions. When doing this with other people, it makes sense for everyone to think for themselves at first and to gather the ideas on a canvas or mind map before anyone starts presenting their own (there are great tools for this like Miro or MindMeister). Hearing other people's ideas may cause one to get insecure about their own ideas as they were different and scrap them - while they may have been the most unconventional and best one, a disruptive outside-of-the-box idea.
If you have many alternatives to choose from, you will need to outweigh the opportunities and risks of your options. As we humans are considered naturally risk-averse, our minds tend to give more weight to the risks than opportunities. Evaluate how likely the risk or opportunity is, what the consequences of it realizing would have. Would you be able to handle it? Sometimes, taking a calculated risk might be exactly the push that you need to keep everyone going (including yourself), and not get too comfortable. After all, taking some risk means you will be working to avoid a loss, which is an even bigger motivator than a potential upside for us as humans.
It is as important as defining the challenge at the beginning, to document and get a common understanding of what has been agreed as a solution. Our memory never is as good as we think it would be, and people tend to understand things differently even though one thinks all are aligned verbally. Be as clear as possible in your documentation and ask everyone involved to review and comment if necessary.
8. What changes now
You have just gone through a learning exercise, so what do you take with you from this? What processes need to be changed? What and how do you monitor things in the future to avoid a similar challenge in the future? Who takes which action to solve the challenge at hand, and how will you follow up the outcome and your team's success?
And eventually, time will tell if you made the right decision, right? No, not really. It is a misbelief to think that one would know the right solution afterward - and it is not even really relevant. If you can ensure that you make the right decision at the time of making it, with the information you have at hand, and that you do not get blinded by biases, you can congratulate yourself - you decided on the right option for your challenge.
After solving a challenge, you will be wiser again and better equipped for the next challenge when you get back to work. It is certain that it will come. The more you have been able to solve challenges, the more you will have confidence in your ability to do so, and the better you will actually perform next time when facing one.
Are you excited to be presented with the next challenge without a ready solution?