Being a Leader: Problem-solving
Decision-making and problem solving are regarded by many researchers as the most important of management actions. It involves mainly choosing between various alternatives. Before making a decision, the leader should diagnose the situation, the problem it poses and the various ways of acting.
Definition of decision-making and problem solving
Decision-making and problem solving involve all the work that leaders must perform to reach the conclusions and judgments necessary for them to act in any situation.
Problem solving as a function of decision-making
To solve a problem, you first make a decision as to the approach you have to take to overcome the obstacle and achieve the objective; then you determine how to carry out that decision.
Definition of problem-solving
Problem solving is the work a manager performs to make and carry out a decision as to the approach that will be followed to overcome an obstacle that stands in the way of achieving an objective.
What is a problem?
A problem can be described as a disturbance of an unsettled matter that demands a solution for productive functioning of an organization. A problem is an obstacle that stands in the way of achieving an objective.
Types of problems:
A routine problem. For example goods out of stock, tools that break or absence of workers. These occur frequently – so frequently that a definite procedure can be worked out for everyone to follow.
A non-routine problem. In this case it is always a good idea to sit back a minute and try to identify the real problem. If a worker suddenly changes his or her behaviour, works badly, becomes casual, the situation is more complex than saying, “I’ve got a problem with Jack”. The problem could be in Jack’s personal life, or his relationship with his co-workers, or even in something you have done.
What causes a problem?
Change: If everything remained exactly as it should be, problems would not occur. Unwanted change is always with us. Changes occur in materials, tools and equipment, employee attitudes, policy of organization, and just about anything else you can imagine. The trick to problem-solving is often the ability to spot the unwanted and unexpected change that slipped into the normal situation.
How to recognize the problem
You find a problem by spotting a gap (deviation or variance) between actual and expected performance. For example, you plan to reach 200 lost souls a month; but on the last day of the month it shows that you have reached only 90, a gap of 110 souls. It is the same with a potential problem. You know what must happen in the future. These are you plans. If you fall short on these targets – a gap exists.
The systematic approach to decision-
making and problem solving
Step 1: Identify the problem
Stay away from a general statement, such as, “We have a problem with quality”. Instead, narrow it down and put figures on it if you can. It is important to distinguish between the problem and various symptoms, and in this way to reach the cause.
Step 2: Collect information relevant to the problem
Gather as much information regarding the problem as possible. Information systems should be used, and suitable people consulted, like eyewitnesses to an accident, for example. All the facts should be analyzed.
Step 3: Establish the cause of the problem
Remember that a problem is a gap between expected and actual conditions. Something must have occurred to cause the gap. Something must have changed.
Step 4: Determine alternative solutions to the problem
This step is the creative part of decision-making. Make every effort to discover ways that other individuals or companies have used to overcome a similar problem. You may find journal articles containing good suggestions. It is good to involve your people and appropriate staff groups in seeking possible solutions. Brainstorming is a valuable technique in developing the alternatives. The more you incorporate the ideas and suggestions of your group, the greater the emotional ownership they will have in the decision and the harder they will work to make it succeed.
Step 5: Evaluate the pros and cons of the alternatives
By comparing the alternatives to given standards, some solutions will be better than others.
Evaluation requires that you make decisions base on facts.
Step 6: Choose the solution you think will best solve the problem
Decide which of the alternatives is most likely to overcome the problem. Weigh all the chances of success against the risks of failure. The strengths of the solution should exceed its weaknesses.
Step 7: Plan the implementation
This is the problem solving mode, where you plan the action to be taken. Be sure the program steps, schedule and budget are included and that all involved agree on the specific standards to be met in solving the problem. This will enable you to ensure that the problem is solved satisfactorily with the minimum time and attention on your part.
Step 8: Evaluate the progress and results
Concentrate on problem areas where you are not meeting standards so that you can maintain effective control. In complex situations, an occasional personal inspection, especially at first, will establish your concern and serve as an effective motivator. All effective problem solving techniques follow a similar process.