By Christoph Goldenstern, Kepner-Tregoe

Many companies are seeing a lot of value from enabling their employees in problem-solving techniques and maturing problem management processes. From operations to IT to sales, they are finding that the more equipped employees are to identify, diagnose, evaluate and resolve problems, the more effectively the organization can manage costs, increase process performance and deliver the products that customers need. 

Along with the success, there are a few common misconceptions about problem-solving techniques that keep showing up:

Problem-solving is the “silver bullet”

As the saying goes, “horses for courses”, there is no “silver bullet” that will solve all your organizations’ challenges. Problem-solving techniques have some universal applications and can be used to help you be effective in a lot of situations, but like any other tool or methodology in your repertoire, it’s about choosing the right one.

Problem-solving is great for helping to get clarity of things going on around you in the environment, in operations, in IT systems and in business processes. It can give you tools to help categorize, prioritize and diagnose issues that are an ongoing concern for the business. It can also give you a means to prioritize, choose alternatives then determine what decisions and actions are most likely to be successful in adding the most value for your company.

Problem solving techniques in and of themselves are less suited to deal with people issues – influencing, changing behavior, resolving conflicts and motivating people. That’s why we need to combine “the deployment” of problem solving with other approaches to embed these techniques and foster adoption. What they will do is help you accomplish more with the time and resources you have.

Problem-solving techniques are helpful, but they can create a lot of overhead.

A lot of successful organizations employ problem solving techniques that enable structured information gathering. When companies implement these processes, there is an initial perception that this requires the capture of many more data points than usual perhaps, to formalize decision making and introduce a lot of process checkpoints. In some organizations and some contexts (think pharmaceutical companies and nuclear power plants) a high level of rigor and formality is required, typically for safety, security or compliance reasons – but that’s not true for all environments.

Think of problem-solving not as a prescriptive process but a critical thinking tool that is deployed based on intent and need. One of my colleagues always likes to say “it’s like using salt – use as much as necessary and as little as possible to get you to a solution”. 

Problem solving techniques CAN involve a lot of” checks and balances” and in some environments those are necessary. They can also be applied in a very scalable and agile manner when dealing with fast moving situations of varying complexity.

Problem solving techniques can help me lower my need for subject matter experts (SMEs)

“If I have good problem-solving processes and techniques, I can save money by employing less skilled employees”. While this may be true for organizations that deal with mostly high-volume/low complexity problems, SMEs are still very much required. The reason being that the growing complexity of technology and organizational structure is actually driving up “problem” volumes and their complexity in almost all organizations. However, good problem-solving techniques enable these SMEs to be more effective and solve those bigger problems. 

Problem-solving techniques aren’t about down-leveling your organization, they help you do more and achieve more with the people you have by ensuring they are focusing on the highest value activities. As your organization’s problem-solving capabilities mature, you will find easier problems getting resolved earlier, at a lower cost point, while your highly-skilled resources focus on challenges that are much more difficult.

Companies across industries are reaping the benefits of up-leveling their employees’ problem-solving skills. Kepner-Tregoe has been helping companies implement and mature problem-solving capabilities for over 60 years through a combination of training, process implementation guidance and consulting. With KT’s help, customers have been able to solve some of the biggest problems in their company’s history.

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