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Effective Problem Solving Techniques

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In today’s workplace, the responsibility of problem solving is no longer an exclusive responsibility of the people occupying seats of upper management. Now, this is a responsibility that everyone in the organization shares. Effective problem solving skills allow employees throughout the organization to examine problems, identify, assess, and evaluate.

The first step to effective problem solving is to first identify and define the problem. This is simply a broad review of the current situation. The employee, or group of employees, working on finding a solution to the problem review and discuss the real “pains” of the problem, how widespread the “pains” are, and how quickly the employee, or group of employees should act in order to resolve the problem at hand. This step also allows the employee or employees to determine what happened, why it happened in order to prevent it from happening again in the future.

Flat Tire

© Flickr user Mike Mozart

Tools that could potentially be used for this stage of problem solving are interviewing, completing questionnaires to gather information, or brainstorming. One may find that one of these tools may work better to gather more credible, unbiased data, or that all of them may be necessary. Depending on the amount of time that has been determined as needed to solve the problem, there may not be enough time for all of these data gathering techniques. All organizations are different, so each must figure out what works best for their team. Identifying the problem may seem like an obvious place to start. And while this is very important in figuring out the correct path to the solution, something else to think about is the employee, or the group of employees you charge with carrying out this problem solving process. These need to be individuals who really understand the organization and will take the initiative to solve the problem as if it were their own.

The second step to effective and efficient problem solving skills is proposing solutions. After the problem is defined and the root cause has been determined, the employee or employees should generally have enough knowledge essential to offer ideas for proposed solutions. This is where the “no idea is a bad idea” comes in to play. The employee or employees should come up with as many proposed solutions as possible. These proposed solutions should always be tied back to the main cause of the problem in order to ensure that the chances of the problem arising again are much lower, or not possible at all. This is not a solution selection step however; rather a time to eliminate any solutions that may be overlapping, or solutions that don’t address the initial cause of the problem that was defined in the first step.

Tool Box

© Flickr user el cajon yacht club

The third step that should be included in your problem solving endeavors is to select the solution. This step takes the solutions that have been created in the previous step and delves deeper into the potential pros and cons of each. The employee or employees solving the problem should assess whether the solution is technically feasible, and whether or not it is acceptable to those who will have to implement the solution. Having the right employees implement the solution encourages trust in order to get the buy-in of other employees.

The fourth step is the implementation step of the problem solving process. Everything should be in place at this point to correctly and transparently communicate the implementation efforts. Communication is important in all of the steps of this process, but it is so important in this step as the problem solvers need everyone involved in the solution to understand the whole process. Also, this step requires action as to what will be done, who will do it, when it will be started. It’s also a time to assess when key milestones will be completed, how necessary actions will be carried out, and questioning why these actions are the solution. These are also questions and answers that need to be communicated to the organization as well.

Lastly, after every solution is implemented, evaluation must always take place. This step must be seen as an opportunity to fine-tune the solution for possible shortcomings. Effective problem solvers will plan additional tools for feedback to detect these shortcomings and to make sure that the problem is solved without creating a new issue. Again, effective communication is key in order to ensure the success of the solution in all areas of the organization and that the appropriate follow-up is completed.

These are important steps to follow in order to ensure a successful problem solving process. Again, selecting the correct individuals in order to effectively carry out these steps is important. High-performing employees and an effective process combine to create a problem solving workplace that produces results.

Patrick McKenna graduated from St. Mary’s University, Winona, Minnesota in May of 2015. He is currently employed as an HR Assistant with New Focus HR, LLC in Indianapolis, IN. He assists in the areas of compensation, HR compliance, HR policies and procedures, background checks, to name a few.

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