By Wayne Stottler, Kepner-Tregoe 

As a new generation of employees enter the workforce, comfortable with technology, sourcing real-time knowledge from the internet and expecting immediate results – a dose of humility is needed and an appreciation for the masters, craftsmen and other seasoned employees in the organization with the wisdom that only comes from experience.  Here are 6 problem solving lessons that seasoned employees can teach younger generations:

1. Why things work the way they do: An instruction manual, diagram, documentation or YouTube video can explain how your machinery and operations work, but only experience can give insight into why it works the way it does and the various tradeoff decisions that caused your operations to be the way they are.  An understanding of the history can give your team a better understanding of the limits and known potential issues of your operations to accelerate the problem-solving process.
 

2. How to discern what is important vs. what is noise: There are a lot of signals and data points that are present in your operations environment and advances in technology are expanding the scope that operators are expected to monitor and manage.  Filtering through the available information and identifying what information is important vs, what is a distraction takes considerable practice.  Your seasoned employees can provide guidance to help prevent younger employees from becoming overwhelmed.
 

3. Troubleshooting with your senses:  Seasoned employees know that there is far more information available about your operations than the lights and gauges on the monitoring screen.  They understand that troubleshooting is a sensory activity that is far more effective using the human senses of sight, sound, smell and feeling – not just relying on instrumentation.
 

4. What works and what doesn’t: Problem-solving often involves a lot of trial-and-error.  Experienced employees can share insights about how effective various activities work and what actions are ineffective, but more importantly, they can teach younger employees about the things they can learn from both success and failure.
 

5. Long-term vs. short-term impacts:  There are short-term fixes and there are long-term fixes.  A seasoned employee will understand the differences between them and given a set of alternatives be able to assess the impact period.  Understanding alternatives is only part of the challenge –experienced staff understand the big picture and can advise on when the organization needs to focus on the long-term vs getting operations back online quickly.
 

6. The importance of timing: Problem solving is more than ‘doing the right thing’ and ‘doing it right’.  Seasoned employees understand the importance of timing to achieving the desired impact. By imparting this wisdom on younger generations, they can help avoid a lot of wasted effort.

The new generation of employees may be skilled at acquiring knowledge and figuring things out, but the seasoned employees in your organization hold the wisdom that comes from years of experience.  Solving the future problems of your company will require both.  An effective problem-solving program should include both seasoned veterans in your organization and newer generations of employees. The problem-solving experts at Kepner-Tregoe have been helping companies like yours for over 60 years and can work with you to implement the processes, skills and training needed to embed problem-solving into the bedrock of your company culture.

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