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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

Excellent Performance Management Supports Great Character

Personal character, and the character and culture of an organisation, is core to organisational health.

Adri Dörnbrack

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ariana-huffington

“We have little power to choose what happens, but we have complete power over how we respond.”

– Ariana Huffington, Thrive

Good character feels right

Having good character simply feels right. You will sense when you encounter it in an organisation or an individual. On the flip side, you will want to run away if you experience its polar opposite being allowed to run rife.

The fruit of “good character” in the organisational context includes: Sincerely serving colleagues, customers and suppliers. Ethical leadership. Showing integrity while performing tasks. It is reflected in something as “small” as looking after company resources.

  • Personally: Do you take stationary home? Is that stealing? Do you habitually leave 10 minutes earlier, or come late?
  • Organisationally: Do we commit to the promises we make our customers? Do we remunerate our employees fairly, or do we sweat our assets to get more work for less pay?

Good character is tested during turbulent times.

Will the company turn a blind eye when confronted with situations that require neglecting good principles for the sake of making money or closing a deal?

It is then when we see who stands firm in their values, good principles, and beliefs.

Related: 17 Most Important Performance Management Decisions Leaders Will Need To Make

The benefits of excellent character

No one or no business is perfect. Building character is a lifelong process.

Benefits of excellent organisational character include: Attracting better leaders and talent, making better decisions, having happy and engaged employees who will take less energy to manage, but instead will add energy to the business.

Customers will sense this. Strategic partnerships will be formed. The business will also attract suppliers that share the same character.

Other intrinsic benefits include: Being responsible stewards, and understanding why the organisation exists, what it contributes towards, and is part of.

Making a sizeable profit is great, and a responsibility towards shareholders. How you make that profit, and what you do with it (how you spend it), is what defines “who” the organisation is, reflecting its character.

Obstacles to excellent organisational character

Warren-Buffett

Warren Buffet said: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation, and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

I want to be able to say that I display great character all the time, but I can’t. I wrestle with it, and I am tested in various areas daily. But I try. I review my actions and motives through discussions with individuals, in internal meetings, and in conversations with clients. I often need to face the facts that in some areas I may have acted inappropriately. This is not about work only, but about life, which makes it a weightier responsibility. Being confronted with the standards of having good character is sometimes the biggest obstacle you face.

From an HR viewpoint organisations will face obstacles in various areas: Ensuring that goals are reasonable. Ensuring that employees and managers act with integrity, and are held accountable for their actions. Also, recruiting the correct fit within the job and culture and not just recruiting the quickest available candidate who might actually not fit the culture profile.

When we see re-occurring patterns of moral “red flags” we should act accordingly to protect our business from the harmful repercussions of having “a little leaven ruin the whole lump”. Flags like unfaithfulness, malicious jealousy, destructive selfish ambitions, dissensions, and outbursts of rage, sabotaging envy, and addictions.

Setting the boundaries and letting employees and managers know through leaderships’ example what it means to act with good character brings security, and will contribute to a happy and productive workforce.

Related: Why I Stopped Doing Annual Employee Reviews

Performance management contributes to excellent organisational character

Sometimes performance management is inappropriately used by managers as merely a tool to discipline, or just done as a “box-ticking” exercise. This is not the approach we recommend.

The Imenent approach is geared towards creating a culture where the employee and manager can honestly dialogue about the real progress of a function or task. The majority of empowered employees are generally able to fulfill well-defined functions. It is when things go wrong that a manager needs to be made aware of it quickly so that they can work together as a team to understand what happened, and what the solution is.

Our system is a voice for both the employee and the manager, supporting both parties with tools and advise.

We believe that this open relational approach to performance management is an enabler of great organisational character.

To conclude with another Ariana Huffington quote: “It all starts with setting the expectations that make it clear that no matter how much hardship we encounter – how much pain and loss, dishonesty, ingratitude, unfairness, and jealousy – we can still choose peace and imperturbability.”

Always seek to do good.

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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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