When you step into management, you pretty much become a professional problem solver. And if you haven’t received any kind of training on the subject (like many first-time supervisors), the role can be challenging to say the least.
While it takes years to hone your problem-solving skills, here are seven fundamentals that will help you come up with better solutions, with less stress and greater confidence.
Determine that you actually have a problem
Is the situation you are facing really a problem? If you can’t define what you want (and what you think you want is different than what you’ve got) it isn’t a problem. That gap between what you have and what you want helps define your problem. If you haven’t got a gap, find one or let go of the situation. You are worrying or complaining for no good reason.
Define the problem
The gap that you have just defined helps you. However, in order to solve a problem, big or small, you must be able to describe the problem in a succinct statement. Talking things out is fine to help you determine the problem, but at this point you need to name the problem and write it down. Doing so provides clarity and focus, two things often lacking in problem solving activities.
Establish the cause
Too often we react to symptoms of a problem without understanding the real cause. Focusing on symptoms won’t likely solve the problem and may make it worse. Take the time to drill down to the root cause.
Slow down (enough)
Taking time to understand the cause of the problem is part of slowing down, but it is more than that. Good problem solving requires some planning. Notice that none of the points so far are “solving steps.” Instead, they are “planning for solving” steps. You must adequately plan in any problem-solving situation. You must slow down enough to create a solid effective plan, but not so much that you never move forward with a solution.
Start digging and dig some more
To better understand the problem and create an effective solution, you may need to dive into the details of the situation. Ask questions, gather data and be a bit of a detective. In other words, sometimes you must get closer to the problem to understand it completely.
Gain some perspective
If your problem is causing you pain, anguish, stress, embarrassment or any other emotion, you may need better perspective. Consider stepping back, both physically and psychologically. Look at it logically and in the third person if possible. Think about it from the perspective of others (other departments, coworkers, family members and customers), and keep those people in mind when you make your decisions.
Ask for help
The Lone Ranger had Tonto. Holmes had Watson. Find your own confidants, and ask them to help you resolve problems. You may naturally do that for bigger problems, but even with seemingly trivial issues, other people can provide ideas and feedback you wouldn’t think of yourself.
As a new manager, you can expect to face problems that you need to solve quickly and effectively. Remember to apply the seven fundamentals whenever you face a challenging situation, and you will drastically increase your chances of making the right decision for you, your team and your organization.
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