As long as you run a business, you will have problems. Whether you’re the Google of your industry, or you just launched a business out of your parent’s garage, problems are guaranteed to follow you everywhere you go.
The key to being successful in business is not avoiding problems – it’s understanding how to solve them and improve along the way.
The 4 Steps to Better Business Problem Solving
There are entire books, blogs, white papers, webinars, and conferences devoted to business problem solving. You could spend a full workweek consuming the content that’s been published on problem solving and still not make a dent.
This article is in no way a comprehensive or scientifically proven – it’s merely a basic overview of an effective strategy that works well for many small and medium-sized businesses.
1. Recognize Cause Over Symptom
Common sense tells us there’s a difference between cause and symptom. The cause leads to the symptom, which is why it’s impossible to remedy a problem by only addressing the symptom. You might make things better temporarily, but the symptom – or perhaps another symptom – will quickly resurface.
When you notice a problem, your immediate reaction should be to conduct a root cause analysis – rather than prematurely addressing symptoms. The symptoms may need to be dealt with, but rushing to fix surface level details could leave the root issue festering below.
2. Brainstorm Multiple Solutions
Once you’ve correctly identified the root problem, you can start to brainstorm solutions. The first solution you come up with may be the best, but you shouldn’t stop until you’ve thought through all of the possibilities.
“For example, firing a problem employee could solve a morale problem, but moving that employee could make better use of his talents and boost morale once again,” entrepreneur Kevin Johnston suggests. “You might identify a cash-flow problem that recurs each month at the same time. Your first thought might be that you need to demand payment on all outstanding accounts receivable, but you could discover that renegotiating a bill due date with a vendor could easily resolve the difficulty.”
3. Involve Multiple People in Implementation
Problem solving in isolation is rarely smart. You might think you have the best solution to a problem, but you’d be amazed by how differently someone else can look at the same issue. The more people you involve in both solution brainstorming and solution implementation, the better off you’ll be.
4. Monitor and Analyze Results
Your job isn’t over after you implement a solution. The next step is to establish a system for monitoring the efficacy of your solution. Using this system, you can analyze the results and determine whether or not the problem is actually solved, or if you just dealt with the symptoms.
If your first solution doesn’t work, then hopefully you can revert to one of the other solutions you came up with in step two. This is another reason coming up with multiple solutions is such a wise idea.
View Problems as Opportunities
Would it be better to move through business without experiencing any problems at all, or to suffer through some difficulties and learn empowering lessons along the way? While problems are never fun in the moment, most of us can agree that, once we reach the other side, problem solving fuels growth. It’s the whole “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” mentality.
As you approach business problems in 2018, make sure you view them as opportunities for growth, rather than culprits of imminent demise. You’ll be far better for it once you get to the other side.