If problem-solving is the current business priority, then focusing on addressing the problem-solving skills gap will be the next.

Long story short, there are many problems that businesses need to address.

If a business doesn’t have in-house problem-solving skills, they risk becoming uncompetitive, providing a poor customer experience and impacting the wellbeing of their employees.

In no particular order, three significant business issues that need addressing:

  1. Organisations need to define their new working practices. How does remote working fit their employment model, and what benefits does this offer to the business, the employees, and the customer?
  2. Address low productivity. More than ever, addressing low productivity is critical to managing costs and providing consistently good service. How can technology and more online and integrated workflows help the business?
  3. Innovate and creating greater value for customers.

The problem-solving skills gap

Not an exhaustive list, but the critical skills that employees require during a problem-solving project are:

  1. communication and interpersonal skills
  2. judgment and decision-making skills
  3. critical thinking skills
  4. innovation and creativity

This isn’t a nice to have chat over a coffee, politely discussing the organisation’s people development strategy.

The impact of the problem-solving skills gap is very real and will cost businesses as they:

  1. Invest time and resources fixing the wrong problem resulting from a lack of clarity and focusing on the symptoms.
  2. Jump to a solution and get it wrong. The issues and pain will keep coming back, maybe in different parts of the business.
  3. Develop a process map fixation. There is more to problem-solving than a process map. Overly focusing on process maps will mean missing essential details.

As the business fails to innovate and solve problems for its customers, the risk is that their competition will be.

Getting started when solving a business problem is hard

Simply put, it’s hard because it’s hard. Dealing with the noise, opinions, and pressure to ‘do something’ typically with a lack of clarity on the problem or the desired outcomes, is tough.

Over the years, I have seen two ways to get started when embarking on a problem-solving project, and one of them works much better than the other.

Option 1, start, blunder around and eventually stumble on a plan.

This can work but has serious drawbacks; mainly, its time consuming for anyone involved in the project, the leads, any SMEs and stakeholders. Engagements and the results can be rather hit or miss. On the plus side, for some organisations, it will create a lot of activity, noise, and the perception of work without achieving a huge amount.

Option 2, take a little time out before jumping in.

This more strategic approach results in more targeted questions and engagements with a structure that can capture, assess and prioritise the information gained. Maybe it’s not as glamorous; it just works.

Using a structured approach has the added benefit of overcoming three very common problems when getting started, procrastination, information overload and feeling like a rabbit in the headlights.

The six steps for getting started when problem-solving

  1. Create clarity

This sounds the simplest thing to address. The problem exists; we can see it, go fix it. The difficulty is, once you start digging into something, as a rule, it’s more complex than it looks. Throwaway comments are not the basis for solution planning, and these are often built on many hidden assumptions that need to be called out and tested.

Creating clarity is the foundation of your project.

  1. Find the pain

One of the biggest hurdles to getting started is not having the words to describe the project or problem. So people resort to jargon or a five-minute introduction ramble, and who wants to listen to that?

Finding the pain is about defining how the problem impacts the business and people and how it ripples across the wider business?

  1. Who, how and when?

Build the detail around the pain and work. This is not a process map; it’s a description of the activity, people and data.

  1. Follow the data

Data is vital to the problem-solving activity. Assess what data you have; what does it tell you? Does it support the current project assumptions? What’s missing? Can you plug into new data sources?

Building data into the project simplifies decision making and engagement.

  1. Create the story

Typically business problem-solving isn’t a solo activity; we need the help of other people. Question, can you tell the story? Ask yourself, is it a compelling story, are you making it up as you go along, does it have a point, could you do an elevator pitch? The answers will probably be no.

Build your intro story; you need it to engage people to help you solve the problem.

  1. Define the next steps

Engagement planning, what’s the priority and why? What do you need people to think and do, and what objections might they have.

First engagements are critical to the success of a project, they set the tone, pace, and engagement levels, planning is vital.

A problem-solving culture

Developing employee problem-solving skills is great, but it’s not the only consideration. Organisations need to embrace and create a problem-solving culture, and this means:

  1. they need to provide a vision
  2. welcome innovation
  3. most importantly, are not afraid to try new things, some of which may fail