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3 Ways To Spearhead Problem-Solving

Every business has problems, and the best businesses are constantly in a problem-solving mode. The trick lies in approaching each problem from the correct angle and using the right tools to solve it. Here are three ways to help you learn to think like a business consultant and find innovative ways to solve your business’s problems.

John Mautner

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ProblemSolving

1. The common sense approach

Six tips to assess problems and find solutions. By Sid Kemp

If you want to solve a problem internally, learn to do three things: Listen to yourself; listen to your team; do what makes sense. 90% of advanced tools like process re-engineering, project management and quality management are just common sense.

1. Don’t pass blame. The economy is bad, suppliers mess up, and customers can be difficult. That is as true for your competitors as it is for you. What makes winners different is what we do about the problems we can solve, and how we inspire our team to take a can-do attitude and do good work.

2. Fix the right problem. Think like a doctor. You wouldn’t be happy if your doctor gave you stomach medicine for a heart condition. In business, though, we often fix the wrong problem. For example, when sales are low, we push the sales people. Most likely, they’re already doing a good job, and the problem is in marketing. Remember: The cause of a problem is almost never where the symptom shows up. Find the cause and fix it; you can’t fix a symptom.

3. Fix the problem, not the symptom. Say you have some defective parts in your products. Getting rid of them isn’t enough. How do you know more defects won’t arrive with the next order? Instead:

  • Check with your supplier: How can they confirm that there will be no future defects?
  • Change your contract: Add a penalty for defective parts.
  • Change the way you choose suppliers: Go for quality, and prevent the problem.

Now that you know how to fix problems, you just need to find the problems that need fixing.

4. The power of complaints. There’s a great technique for finding your problems – and blowing off some stress – from Barbara Sher’s book WishCraft. She calls it the power of negative thinking. Stand in front of a friend and deliver a stand-up comedy routine titled ‘What’s Wrong With My Business?’ Complain about everything. Be specific. Rant, rave and get it out of your system. Have your friend write down every complaint. There’s your list of problems. Now start solving them. Which problem do you solve first? It doesn’t matter. If you have time and energy, fix the one that will be the biggest boost to your bottom line. If you’re running around like a chicken with your head cut off, then fix the one that is bugging you the most.

5. Listen to your team. Go to your team, and tell them you want to make a fresh start. Tell them you want them to enjoy their jobs more and get more done. Ask each person on the team for three problems that you can fix to make their lives easier. If you haven’t done this before, it may take a while before they take you seriously, but you’ll get there. And when you do, you’ll find that after you help them, they’ll be ready to help you.

6. Ensure maximum flow. Be the plumber for your business. When you fix all big leaks, things start to flow. When you fix all the small problems, profits shoot through the roof. What flows in a business? Products, services, and solutions flow to your customers and money flows to you. Don’t be in business just to make money. The purpose of a business should be to do what we love, love what we do, make our customers happier and better off, and the world a better place. But money is the measure of a business. Track money – gross revenue, expenses and net revenue – to find what is working, and what is not.

2. Become a Master Problem-solver

Five steps to sharpen your problem-solving skills – and save time and money, too. By Scott Halford

Your ability to make money is directly proportionate to how well you solve problems for your customers. Problem-solving is one of the most highly valued characteristics you can have as an entrepreneur. Hone this skill and you reap the benefits of saving time, making money and finding the next big idea for your business.

Focus on fact, not fiction

There are three myths about problem-solving that should be shot before we talk about how to become good at it.

Myth No. 1: Problem-solving and critical thinking are the same.
Fact: Problem-solving is a sub-set of its larger cousin, critical thinking. Problem-solving deals with the immediate issue, and critical thinking is required for long-term strategic issues.

Myth No. 2: Good problem-solvers intuitively shoot from the hip.
Fact: Intuition is an important part of the process, but research shows that the more systematic problem-solver has a better return with accurate and successful solutions.

Myth No. 3: If you come up with a good solution, you’re a good problem-solver.
Fact: There are five steps to good problem-solving, and you need to follow through on each to be deemed a pro at it.

Follow through

Following these five steps will help you become a master problem solver.

1. Identify. Identifying the correct problem to work on is often where people trip up. It’s not as simple as you might think – breeze over this step at your own peril. Think about a business that has revenue issues. There could be a few hundred reasons for that issue. Asking the right questions and being a smart detective help you zero in on the problem with precision. The good problem-solver asks a lot of questions about what the problem really is, instead of guessing and making snap decisions about it.

2. Ideate. Now that you have a short list of what the problem might be, brainstorm all the possible solutions. The best brainstorming happens when you have the opportunity to bounce ideas off others. Get the right people in the room and think of as many solutions as you can. This is not the time to evaluate. The physiological brain process of generating ideas is not the same as evaluating them, and they cannot be switched on at the same time. They are both critical processes, but don’t turn off the ideation by turning on the evaluation.

3 Evaluate. This is when you evaluate the ideas you came up with during the ideation phase. Evaluate ideas first based on their impact on a goal, and secondly, on the complexity of the idea. Complexity is not about difficulty. Instead, it is determined by only two things: time and money. Can the idea bring about successful results in the time constraints you have, and does it fit any known budget constraints you have? Ask yourself how large an impact the idea has. If you’re trying to cut R50 000 out of a budget and you come up with an idea that saves R1 000, the impact is relatively low. One with R10 000 becomes a higher-impact solution. You are looking for high–impact, low-complexity ideas.

4 Execute. This is another step average problem-solvers often skip. It does no good to come up with a great idea and then bungle execution on it. We’ve all been in those meetings where ideas are brainstormed and funneled into a few doable deeds, only to walk out of the meeting and never know when or how the ideas will be executed. Fruitless. Come up with a plan to get your idea done. You don’t have to be the executor of the full idea, but as a problem-solver, you have some responsibility for implementing the solution.

5. Re-examine. The final step is to check in with the solution’s progress and determine if it is still the right one. There will be times when the problem still exists because the solution wasn’t right. Don’t throw in the towel. Go back to step two and get going on the next solution.

Bringing solutions

Problem-solving is a skill that pays handsomely. Practice the steps so that you become efficient at them. Require it of others you work with. Then execute. Get them in the habit of always bringing at least one solution idea for every problem you identify. No problem.

3. The action team approach

Creating action teams is one of the best ways to attack and solve your most pressing business management problems. By John Mautner

Action teams are a structured way to attack business management problems. If you truly want to change your company, then adopt the action team concept – it’ll give you a base to solve problems and improve systems for many years to come. An action team is created to solve a particular problem, and its focus is to come up with solutions to the problem, then implement the best solution(s) found. A team will normally meet for four to six weeks, concentrating on just a single problem. Meetings should be held once a week and limited to one hour. At the end of each meeting, if needed, assignments are given to team members to complete before the next meeting. This keeps everyone actively involved in solving the problem.

Let’s address who should be on an action team. A team normally consists of four to six people, and each member should have some stake in the assigned problem, but it can be peripheral. For instance, if the problem happens to deal with inventory, you may have people from shipping, manufacturing, inventory management, purchasing and accounting since they each deal with inventory in one way or the other. What you don’t want is a team made up entirely of the responsible department, in this case, inventory management. In addition, team members should come from a variety of levels, not just from management. During team activities, all team members should be considered to be on the same level, rather than on their level in the company outside the team. On an action team, each member is equal – there is no rank on the team.

Assembling a team

When it comes to the roles that your employees will hold on the team, the first one to fill is the team leader. This is the person who must keep the meetings moving forward and on track and make sure that all members are involved. They are not to allow ‘war stories’ to dominate the meeting. The focus should be to look forward to solutions rather than rehashing problems once they’ve been clearly identified. The team leader must also be ready to step in and hold the team members accountable for their performance when required.

When choosing a team leader, select someone who has a history of putting out a higher-than-average effort in their jobs in an effective and productive manner. Another critical role on the team is the scribe. This person is responsible for capturing the information that comes out during the meeting and, in particular, noting the assignments that team members are given during the meeting to accomplish. These written minutes and assignments should be distributed to every person on the team no more than 24 hours after the meeting so that everyone knows their tasks for that week. The scribe can be selected by the leader at the first team meeting.

The Team in Action

To start the problem-solving process with an action team, choose a problem. Be sure to carefully word your ‘problem to be improved’ so there’s a clear understanding of the expected results of your action team. Then send out an email to all selected members of the team, requesting their participation on the team. At the first meeting, you should brief team members on the importance of their assistance on the team, noting that it’s just as important, if not more so, than their normal responsibilities. Hold the meetings during working hours so that your employees understand that you’re willing to pay them to work on this important task.

Goal-orientated achievements

Each action team project should be scheduled as a standard four-week process, although some flexibility may be required which is why as many as six weeks are allowed. (On projects that require more time, the majority of that time will go toward completing the second and third bullets below.) The process should typically follow this outline:

  • Week one involves clearly defining the problem and researching the issues and related data. This may include figuring out cost items and looking at different, possible solutions.
  • Week two is used to review the issues and the data, identifying new or modified procedures, and to identify updates or changes required to reporting systems. You want to track how the changes are affecting the business, so you need to establish some kind of measure to monitor.
  • Week three is used to finalise the new procedures through group interaction. In other words, the team is starting to establish written procedures on new, required actions.
  • Week four culminates with the final draft of all new procedures and an implementation of the plan.

The result should be a new standard operating procedure and training on how to use the new process that’s been created.

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Performance Monitoring

The Role Of Employers In Skills Development

Here are a few reasons why you should invest in skills development for your employees.

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Recruiting talent in today’s working environment has certainly changed for the better. With the new B-BBEE compliance and Skills Development Act regulations, it has now become possible for business owners to make an impact by employing unskilled individuals and training them up to be valuable workplace assets. In such a competitive working environment, investing in one of the many skills programmes can benefit your human capital more than any impulse hire could.

From UIF to skills development levies and more, business owners need to be up-to-date with the latest labour law requirements as they are directly responsible for the growth and progress of their staff. Employer-endorsed skills development plays an important role in the future of your business. This, unfortunately, has made many employers shy away from skills development because they fear that investing in skills may result in employees leaving. While that certainly can be a reality, the Skills Development Act encourages businesses to invest in training to help contribute to society, and to generally increase their business opportunities with international and local companies.

Skills development is a powerful motivator for new and existing employees. Be it through learnerships, internships or workplace-based training programmes, individuals who feel that their company is investing in them, personally and professionally, are more likely to be loyal to your company.

Related: Understanding Your Responsibility As An Employer

Here are a few reasons why you should invest in skills development for your employees:

Attracts and retains valuable employees

Beyond the skills shortage in South Africa, employee retention is a major challenge for employers. While the hiring process might be easy, it becomes an unnecessary expense for business owners when positions aren’t fulfilled according to plan. Knowing that you can rely on your employees is both a benefit to you and the employee themselves.

Skills development programmes do not only build loyalty, increase your BBBEE scorecard rating and create a strong workforce, but it gives your business a good reputation. A company which invests in human capital creates new opportunities within and outside the company.

Helps you create promotable employees

Taking the time to upskill employees means that you’re making an effort to support them professionally, as well as contributing to the economy at large. By implementing skills development training in your business, you’re creating a capable workforce and giving them the tools they need to excel.

Employees become engaged at work

Employees who don’t feel appreciated or cared for are the ones who tend to come and go. When you provide them with an opportunity to learn and grow, you’re allowing them to challenge themselves. Most unskilled employees can’t afford tertiary education, so when you give your employees the help they need, they’re more likely to become loyal, motivated and value-adding employees.

Helps you save and earn money

When your company partners with a company like Proud Afrique, according to Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) regulations, there are many ways in which your business can save money. One of the most beneficial ways is through tax claims.

There will also no longer be a need to hire and recruit talent as often because learning programmes will give your business the chance to build up a pool of trustworthy, willing employees who could, potentially, add value to your company in the long-run. Not to mention, a trained workforce contributes to a higher productivity and output level in the office.

Related: Five Qualities Employers Look For In Job Candidates

Creates a forward-thinking mindset

Employee development is forever changing. Something that worked well this year might not work well next year. But the exciting thing is that your team will be up-to-date with the latest trends and innovations. Over time, you will be able to adjust your plan according to the employee and industry’s needs. While it might seem intimidating for employers, it means that you’ll constantly need to think ahead and try new ideas. This type of forward-thinking can also spark many valuable relationships.

Final words

Contributing to human capital development in South Africa will give your business the opportunity to grow, regardless of economic conditions. B-BBEE training offers countless advantages which will help you learn the process, the benefits and the goals of being B-BBEE compliant. Employment should be more than simply having a job or receiving a paycheque every month. A skills development training option is there to help your employees change their lives.

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Performance Monitoring

Leadership – Lead Your Team To Dizzying Heights Of Productivity And Business Success

To ensure your company’s success, you’ll need a productive, effective team. But first, you should ensure you have the right people on the bus.

Dirk Coetsee

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What is productivity?

When pondering the answer to a very important question it proves often to be a good tactic to first think on what a concept is not. Productivity is not appearing to be busy.

Productivity is not spending most of your time actually being very busy, but busy with things that propel you forward on the journey towards great achievements and making your vision a reality.

Productivity is simply to produce results. Results that leaps towards your end goals and ultimate vision. Trying is not an option, doing the right things in the right way so that they produce results is the only option, that is, if you really want to build a legendary company.

The ground-breaking difference between effectiveness and efficiency

Efficiency means to do the right thing. It is the right thing to do in business to give quality service, right? So what if doing the right thing does not produce results?

Effectiveness on the other hand is doing the right thing in the right way so that it produces results.

Quality service given in the right way so that we obtain actual referrals and the client comes back for repeat business is an example of effectiveness.

What must you be busy with?

The Pareto principle applies but in overdrive. Really hone in on the 20% of things to do that really brings home the profits, the purpose of the business, and brings joy to customers and team members.

Yes only 20% of your activity as an entrepreneur (roughly on average) brings in the true results, the other 80% of your activity is pure fluff.

Entrepreneurs often revert to what they like doing as opposed to what they actually need to do to be a success. Business growth and productivity is not a game of meandering between the options of dislikes and likes , but instead, taking action on what needs to be done to reach goals whether I personally always like it or not.

Related: 14 Of The Best Morning Routine Hacks Proven To Boost Productivity

Be busy with what works in relation to producing the desired results. If you do not know what actually does work, be busy in terms of researching what needs to be done to produce results.

BE EFFECTIVE.

Get the right people on the bus

Another critical question to answer is: Who must be busy doing the right things in the right way to produce results?

Well only the people who really want to be successful and are willing to pay the price of disciplined and purposeful action will sustainably be effective anyway.

Hire people that authentically believe in your business’ purpose. Hire people that love what they do and already are highly skilled, or alternatively will put in the required work to become very skilful. Remove toxic behaviour from your business by either coaching towards excellence or firing for misaligned behaviours.

Lead by example

Do not expect productivity in the true sense of the word, from your employees if you as an entrepreneur is not the living example of the results producing behaviour that you require from your team. Inspire your team, not only by producing excellent results, but by doing it in a creative, purposeful and joyful way.

As Mahatma Gandhi said: “Be the change that you want to see in this world.” Do not simply demand it, be it first.

“Slay the holy cows”

Most businesses have ‘holy cows’. That means things that do not necessarily produce any results, or even produce very negative results, but the team keeps on doing those things because:

‘That’s how we do things here’

‘That’s how we have always have done things here’

‘We love doing things in that way, here’

Related: How To Optimise Your Productivity After Quitting Your Job

A troublesome example is the ‘meeting holy cow’. Some people just love the sound of their own voices and will carry on speaking for hours upon hours within meetings, which usually then leads to little or no action. A meeting is usually just talking whilst only action can really produce results.

‘Slaying the meeting holy cow’ does not mean we stop having meetings. We simply change the way we do them so that they become effective. By having shorter, very concise meetings, that are actionable, measurable, and results driven we have ‘slayed the meeting holy cow’.

Next steps

Productivity is producing results that continuously move you forward on the journey towards attaining your vision. Be busy with the 20% of activity that produces the real and tangible results that you want for your business. Be willing to ‘slay the holy cows’ that take up time unnecessarily and that do not produce the desired results.

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Performance Monitoring

8 Lessons Rugby Can Teach Us On Achieving Peak Performance In Business And Life

Business is the ultimate test of wills, focus, determination and pushing through the pain when things get tough. In fact, if you can take lessons off the rugby field and into the boardroom, you’ll be a better entrepreneur.

Simon Hurry

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Building your own business from scratch is tough. It really is not for people who enjoy predictability, low risk and comfort. There are often times of doubt, discouragement and outright confusion, accompanied by frequent unpredictable moments that can challenge your sense of humour and test your resolve.

So why do it then? Because you can. Because there is something in it that just makes the effort worthwhile.

I’ve been on my own entrepreneurial journey for the last ten years. I’ve always been interested in how human behaviour affects performance and so I’ve been drawn to work in competitive environments. These have included both the corporate world and sports, and I’ve learnt that there are a lot of overlaps between the two.

As an ex-rugby coach and someone who is currently still involved with international and provincial rugby, there are a lot of rugby lessons that are extremely valuable in the business world.

If you want to achieve peak performance in life and business, here are eight key lessons that you can learn from rugby.

1. It’s all about overcoming resistance

What gave you the belief that just because you had an idea that you knew would change lives and make money, the universe would lay down a red carpet for you and invite you to dine at the table of greatness?

In this scenario, setbacks come as a surprise, competition is seen as unfair and you discover alarmingly that the economy and your bank manager, strangely enough, are geared towards debt and failure rather than success.

You are the only one who believes. Remember that. This is your desire. If you don’t like being tackled you shouldn’t play. The same with your business. If you don’t like the hard hits, pick employment.

Related: 5 Things Businesses Can Learn From Rugby

It’s up to you to get it to work and that means you are about to learn to push through: Three steps forward, five steps back, ten steps forward, two steps back, four steps sideways, one step forward…

Remember This: If you don’t believe that your destiny lies in your idea, you will give up. Guaranteed.

2. Passion does not last

Getting psyched before a game is all good and well. Yes, it makes you feel invincible, indestructible and as close to superhero status as humanly possible. But in the end, passion is just an emotion, and emotions can change. Very quickly in fact, especially after your first hit.

Don’t get me wrong. Passion is a fantastic emotion, but to base the success of your endeavours on an emotion is naïve and even reckless.

There is nothing glorious about the hard graft, no matter how you paint it. It’s sweaty, bloody and thankless. This is why desire is so important. Desire is deep seated and rooted in purpose, not emotion. It fuels the hard graft.

Remember This: People only care about what you do with the ball, not what you did to win the ball.

3. Control the ‘controllables’

A rugby ball is peculiar in that it has an unpredictable bounce. Life is like a rugby ball. One day it can stay in the field of play and you win the game. The next day it bounces out and you lose the game. Same ball. Same circumstance. If you don’t understand this, it can mess with your head.

If you try and control what is impossible to control, you will simply blow your mind, and your mind is your greatest weapon. Don’t give it an impossible task.

You can control what you do every second of the day.

You can control how you respond.

You can even control how you play the game.

You cannot control people.

You cannot control the economy.

You cannot control what is going to happen tomorrow.

In fact, your real genius will lie in how you handle the unknown and the unpredictable.

Remember This: Do what you can to control the bounce but don’t take it personally when it does not go your way. Just respond.

Related: Servant Leadership – Will You Serve?

4. Hit or be hit

If you’re passive in the tackle, hesitant or just put your head down you can get yourself into serious trouble, even break your neck.

Don’t avoid problems, tackle them. The key here is to ensure that they don’t build up momentum. The faster they are going, the bigger they seem to be. Hit them early.

Move towards them, get yourself into position and hit them hard, making sure you take them to ground, otherwise they can keep going.

Remember This: Fear is a killer when it comes to the hits. The problem is only as big as you make it out to be.

5. Play your game

rugby-rules

Rugby is unforgiving to the team that tries to play a game plan that is borrowed from another team. The best teams in the world build a plan around who they are. They don’t force a game plan on the team, they take an individualised, tactical approach.

Your individuality is your greatest competitive advantage. Build everything around who you are, but keep an eye on why you are there. This is not an ego trip. You are there to get the job done better than anyone else.

Remember This: Use your uniqueness to craft an approach that is close to impossible to replicate by your competition.

6. Rugby has rules

In rugby, every time you break the rules you lose possession of the ball. Do it continuously and you can lose a player. Do something really bad and you never see the player again.

Innovation and invention are key change drivers. It’s what allows entrepreneurs to disrupt a market and attract new customers. But, contrary to the myths out there, disruption is not about breaking the rules; it’s about exploiting the rules.

The team that usually wins knows how to use the rules to their advantage. The same in business. So, if you really want to disrupt, change the rules. Ignore or break them, and you may find yourself with very little left and a whole lot of angry fans.

Remember This: The rules define the game. They make the game possible. Take the time to understand them. Then exploit them to your advantage.

Related: 4 Ways To Continuously Develop When Running Your Start-up

7. Play into space

A crowded space on the field is busy, dirty and messy. It’s where you stand the greatest chance of losing the ball. The key in rugby therefore, is to create space. It is space that allows you to gain ground and set up a chance to score. Yes, the busy space is inevitable but to make it ‘normal’ is foolish and unnecessary.

You want minimal contact and maximum space. It’s the same in your business.

De-clutter and simplify. Keep things tidy. Do everything you can to avoid complex, messy situations that can bog you down and cost you unnecessary energy. But this will only be possible if you have a clear, tactical vision that keeps you moving into clear space that is easy to dominate. It has to be part of your thinking and planning. If you just ‘wing it’ you might be alarmed to find yourself in an expensive version of U9 rugby.

Remember This: Always look to create fresh space. Just make sure you are running in the right direction.

8. Know who you want in your team

Rugby is played by 15 players who are on the field to each play very distinct roles. Each role is an important piece of the larger puzzle and demands a very specific skill set, physical attributes and mental approach. You cannot simply just change position. Yes, some roles do allow for more flexibility and a fullback can play flyhalf. But a lock will never be a hooker or a prop. The best in the world play one position. Only.

Do you know who you need in your business or are you relying on ‘jack-of-all trades’? This may be great for a Sunday pickup game but if you’re aiming for the big leagues, plan properly. Don’t think for a moment that your generalist will suddenly become a specialist either. That is the quickest way to destroy talent. Ask any player who has been labeled a ‘utility back’.

Remember This: Specialisation is not an evolution. Be prepared. Start with great people who know exactly what they’re doing and put them exactly where you need them.

Pulling it all together

Above all else, never forget why you’re playing the game. Prepare to win. Practice to win. Play to win. Stay humble. And never forget that personalities make the game.

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