When faced with a problem, what do you do?
Some people rise to the occasion. They are at their best when chaos reigns and solutions seem elusive. They don’t show emotion, think and act rationally, and have a knack for making a tough situation seem rather ordinary. We admire people like that.
And then there is everyone else…
One of the biggest challenges for my mom was learning new technology. It seemed to grow in prominence in her life even as she aged. My dad described her method of problem-solving a misbehaving computer or a confusing remote was “push every button until you figure it out.” That of course never worked. Their DVD player played every one of their movies in French until my son was able to fix it for them.
Sadly, that’s how most of us solve a problem. We don’t really know what the root issue is so we go after the surface solution and try multiple attempts without documenting or testing anything which results in the occasional fix, but most often, a more complicated situation.
What’s the best way to solve a problem? Try this approach:
Step #1: Specifically define the problem. This means name the problem. Rather than “The TV’s broke” say “I can’t seem to figure out how to change the language from French back to English.”
Step #2: Get out all documentation and manuals you have. Intuition works occasionally but why reinvent the wheel when you can refer to some documentation.
Step #3: Work systematically while testing and documenting each step. Take a step. Test the result. Write down what the result was. When you get a step correct, take the next step. Stop, document, and move on. Then, when the problem is solved…
Step #4: Document everything you did. This way you have more data to use when you need Step 2 in a similar problem.
This is the standard way to solve a technology problem but it can certainly work in other areas.
- “John is a terrible employee” (Vague, subjective, and not very specific)
- “John is unreliable” (Better, but still not specific. What makes him unreliable?”
- “John never seems to be here when we need him” (Still better, but more specific please?)
- “John has been late 5 times in the past 2 weeks.” (Now we have something to work with!!!)
Work through the steps using documentation from time and attendance, the HR handbook, and of course any previous performance documentation. Then sit him down and figure out why he’s been late and get him to fix it. Rather than trying a bunch of solutions to motivate John, be sure to go through this methodically.
Our organizational value is quantified by how well we solve or prevent problems. Try these four steps next time you get challenged by a problem.