In line with our past couple of blogs, we found a few more interesting things regarding problem solving that we thought may be useful to you.

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What is the problem – exactly?

On a trip to a Marriott hotel, Bill Marriott, the son of the founder of the Marriott Hotel chain, noted that a particular dining room hostess was rated below standard by the guests. He asked the manager what the problem was. The manager didn’t know but, when pressed, revealed that her pay was a few dollars below the going rate. To lift her weekly pay packet, he would need the approval of Marriott headquarters, but was apprehensive about asking.

Bill Marriott knew the problem went further than simply a light pay packet. His analysis revealed this threefold problem:

Firstly, head office had far too much control over the operation. Why shouldn’t the manager be given the authority to set the hostess’s salary without having to contact headquarters.

Secondly, head office was focusing too much on profit, and not enough on customer satisfaction.

Thirdly, hotel managers seemed to be afraid to contact head office, even for a simple request. Why?

On the surface, the problem was one of a below-market-rate salary. Bill Marriott concluded that several problems stemmed from senior management’s failure to listen to others in the empire. He knew that the toughest part of problem solving is actually defining the problem.


Understand your problem first

In trying to define a problem, in order to gain a basic understanding of it, you must be able to ask a series of questions about it…

  • – What really is the problem?
  • Is it based on fact or opinion?
  • Is the information I have on the issue truthful?
  • Are prejudice or bias factors to be considered?
  • Could the problem be only a symptom?
  • If so, would I attack it any differently?
  • Have I defined the problem too narrowly? Too broadly?
  • How did the problem originate?
  • Has it existed for some time?
  • Is it a common problem or a unique one?
  • What would happen if I did nothing?
  • Is the problem critical?
  • How quickly must I find an answer?
  • Could I get away with tackling only part of the problem now?
  • What will be achieved by solving the problem?
  • Have I formulated a clearly expressed objective?
  • To what extent will the objective relate to the goals of the organisation?

The guru on the mountain

There was once a manager who sought an audience with the wisest management guru of them all. The manager wanted to know the ‘secret of management’ – in particular, what was it that would make him a good manager.

So he climbed the mountain of wisdom and reached the top. There he found the management sage – but was disappointed to learn that it was the guru’s day off. It was the guru’s ‘day of silence’.

“But I’ve come all this way to find out from you, the wisest management guru of all, the secret of good management,” pleaded the manager.

The sage, ever helpful, beckoned the manager to hand him pencil and paper which he did. He wrote on the sheet and handed it back to the manager. On the paper, the sage had written: “AWARENESS”.

The manager was somewhat put out at this.

“You mean I’ve come all this way for you to tell me that the secret of good management is simply AWARENESS?” said the manager. “Surely there must be more to it than that.”

The guru shrugged, took the paper back and wrote on it once more – “AWARENESS. AWARENESS. AWARENESS.”

Think about it. The guru was right – for unless you are aware of something, you can’t come to grips with it. Unless you are aware of a particular management problem, management situation or management issue, then you’ll not be in a position to do anything about it. Awareness is the very first step in tackling any management matter. Do you have strategies in place which will bring to your attention a potential problem in your organisation?


Solving your staff’s problems

If you are always the problem solver and never teach the people around you to think and decide for themselves, you will have a dependent group of followers. It’s smarter to focus on helping people solve problems rather than helping solve people’s problems. The following suggestions, from US leadership developer John Maxwell, are some approaches you should find effective:

  • Never allow others to think you always have the best answers. This will only make them rely on you. Ask questions. Help people to think through the entire process of their problem.
  • Become a coach, not a king. A coach brings out the best in others, helping them to reach deep down inside and discover their potential. A king only gives commands.
  • List their solutions on paper. Integrate your ideas with theirs until they have ownership of them.
  • Ask them to decide on the best solution to their problem.
  • Develop a game plan.
  • Ask them to take ownership and responsibility for the game plan. Let them set up a time frame and accountability process.

Your goal should be, says Maxwell, that when the meeting is over the other person has processed the problem, selected a solution, developed a game plan, and taken ownership of it. His or her relationship with you will then not be a dependent one, but a deepening one.


What’s your style?

There are many ways to solve problems, but, according to Wilson Learning Corporation in Minnesota, everyone has a preference. Recognising your own style and that of others in your team can assist when tackling a problem as a team. Here are four recognisable styles:

The modifiers…

  • These people are stable individuals who are stimulated by factual information and insist on making decisions based on this information.

The explorers…

  • These people like to question basic assumptions. They help teams come up with fresh approaches.

The visioners…

  • These people focus on the ideal end result and see a vision of what they want to achieve. This can inspire a team.

The experimenters…

  • These people combine old elements in new ways, including input from other people.

The Difference between Focus on Problems and Focus on Solutions

When NASA began the launch of astronauts into space, they found out that the pens wouldn’t work at zero gravity. (Ink won’t flow down to the writing surface.)

In order to solve this problem, they hired Andersen Consulting (Accenture Today). It took them one decade and 12 million dollars. They developed a pen that worked at zero gravity, upside down, under water, in practically any surface including crystal and in a temperature range from below freezing to over 300 degrees C.

The Russians used a pencil.