How will we know if we have a good solution before we try to implement it?

As business leaders, we’re smart people and fancy ourselves as problem-solvers. So, not only do we skip the step of developing a deep understanding of the problem, we jump to our favorite direction of the solution. Usually, we propose the solution and are surprised by the resistance we encounter. If we have enough power and stamina, we impose the solution. If we require the consensus of other people, we often get stuck arguing about the pros and cons of alternative solutions. Other people are very good at seeing what is wrong with our idea!

A useful way out is to identify the few criteria that would be associated with any good solution to the problem. And then list as many alternative solutions that meet the criteria in whole or part as possible.

For each alternative, also predict the negative effects and the implementation obstacles. These are what are normally referred to as the “problems” with a proposed solution. In the example above, the recently imposed no-overtime policy was an attempt to control costs in the face of declining productivity. Could you have predicted the negative reaction to such a policy? When the incentive system was initially implemented, do you think management expected it to de-motivate the workforce at the end of every quarter in which it was not earned? Probably not, but it was a predictable negative effect that should have been thought through before the incentive plan was implemented.

In this example, criteria for a good solution might include:

  • Immediately improve the morale of the plant
  • Immediately support increased productivity
  • Be sustainable.

As for alternative solutions with our example company, one is to do nothing differently. This, in fact, is what is normally done. Remember Einstein’s definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results”. Inertia is powerful. Better to live with the devil we know…

Another direction is to address directly the conflict between the current company policies and the employees’ security and satisfaction. Notice that this does not require an employee survey. We all have enough intuition about causes of security and satisfaction. The difficulty is in removing bad policies and replacing them with better policies.

So what happened? The owner took charge, realizing that the company was lax in keeping current with employee reviews. While to every employee his or her review was very important, the company had not prioritized doing them, especially since that would require delivering bad news and having to talk about pay rates. The management had also allowed a few bad attitudes to affect everyone. The bad attitudes were addressed; there was a company meeting acknowledging the importance of employee security and satisfaction, and brief reviews were held emphasizing the importance of skills, cross-training, and attitude. The company committed to paying its most skilled people better than they could make anywhere, but needed their help with increased productivity. The feedback was positive and that “something really changed” this time.

…to be continued.

Here’s to maximizing YOUR profits!
Dr Lisa Lang

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