Every day we encounter problems in our lives. We experience personal and professional dilemmas that block or interfere with our progress. We may attempt to put our problems on hold, hoping they will just go away, but in most cases we may spend a lot of time and energy trying to reach a viable solution. The process of problem solving in our personal life can be much different than how we would address a workplace problem, as our emotional and subjective thinking may interfere. In some cases, as Native American professionals, our cultural beliefs and traditional nature may also impact how we address problems.
Despite the challenges, effective problem solving in the workplace is critical. It is important to work toward developing and maintaining productive Native organizations. Business problems can range from a very technical process, such as finding glitches in a production line to a more abstract process, such as deciphering ineffective marketing strategies.
Each situation, although approached differently, requires engaging in a more systematic approach to problem solving in order to determine the best way to remedy or respond to the problem. In business this is more commonly known as “rational” problem solving.
The process requires that you take apart or analyze a situation in order to reach a desirable outcome. Identifying the problem is the first step. Many people make the mistake of focusing on a symptom of the problem rather than the cause. As an example, your customers or clients have decreased significantly over the past few weeks. You work on trying to bring your clients back to your organization. You contact them and find that they have been experiencing poor service. Their wait time is long and employees have treated them impolitely. In this case, the problem might be in your business or organization’s service delivery and should be addressed, rather than just trying to get your customers or clients back in your doors. If they continue to experience the same thing, they will again abandon their patronage to your business and fulfill their product or service needs elsewhere.
The important steps to rational problem solving involve:
- Identifying the root of the problem.
- Breaking it into parts.
- Considering a desired outcome.
- Considering your choices.
- Determining a strategy.
- Taking action to resolve the problem.
It is also important to have a “plan B” in case your initial strategy is not working. This process is based on a scientific strategy and can be very useful when dealing with work related problems. By taking these important steps, you are in a better position to adequately solve workplace problems.
Other important tips for dealing with workplace problems include: work on only one problem at a time, focus on a solution to the problem, take ownership of your problem, (this will allow you full control in dealing with it) use all your resources, in some cases it helps to write out the problem or sketch it out (giving you a different perspective). And lastly, remember there are usually no “quick fixes” in effective problem solving. The more effort and thought you put into solving a problem, the better chances you have in achieving a long-term successful outcome.
Lucinda Hughes-Juan has many years of teaching and training in the fields of business and management, with a focus on the cultural dynamics in Native businesses and organizations. She is an enrolled member of the Tohono O’odham Nation. She holds an MBA in global management, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in business and organizational management. E-mail her at MLS8090@aol.com.