January 2012

Shannon Wells

Better Business | by Neil Ducoff

 

Blast Problems with the Fire Hose not the Squirt Gun

Finding Solutions for Unplanned Occurrences

If you are a leader you deal with problems every day, all day. It's your job. Big, small and in between, problems will seek you out like metal to a magnet.

Here's the good news: You have a choice as to how to deal with them. You can let them get the best of you, or you can accept them for what they are - unplanned occurrences that require correction.

When you let them get the best of you, they will almost always take you and your company off course by injecting drama, conflict, excuses, blame, hurt feelings and even witch hunts to find a fall guy to pin the problem on.

It's amazing how people can spin any size problem into a black hole that sucks players and bystanders into its vortex.

People seem to feed on the problem, giving it more and more energy as it spins further out of control. Endless debate ensues. Indecision becomes the norm. Leaders stress. Managers shut down. Employees become indifferent. Productivity suffers. Customers defect. Everyone loses.

Now, what would it look like if you and your company fed on finding solutions for unplanned occurrences?

Consider the following no-compromise strategies to shift your company's thinking from feeding on problems to feeding on solutions:

Classify it: What kind of problem are you dealing with? Is it a low-level problem with a straightforward solution? If so, keep it low level. If it's a big problem, pull in the people and resources to contain it and fix it. Objectivity must rule. Keep emotions out of it. Emotions distort the level and magnitude of a problem.

And then there are the dreaded dilemmas: A dilemma has no clear solution and forces innovation. Treat a problem as a dilemma and it will become a dilemma. A dilemma will never become a problem. Solving a dilemma almost always forces innovation and breakthroughs. Feed on identifying solutions that may work. Avoid endless debates over what won't work. Feed innovative thinking by listing the most outrageous solutions because that's where the breakthroughs may be waiting to be discovered.

It's not about you: The worst thing a leader can do is filter solutions based on his or her own leadership blockages. Take three or four steps out of your comfort zone and objectively process the solutions. You may have to make an unpopular decision. Make it. You may have to have that dreaded conversation. Have it. Think about all the problems that became bigger simply because you hesitated, procrastinated and/or obsessed over something that you knew was the right thing to do.

Tight deadlines rock: Give people a lot of time to find a solution and they'll take a lot of time finding a solution. And they'll probably find it right at the eleventh hour anyway. Tight deadlines create a sense of urgency and fuel innovation. Very often, it's seemingly impossible deadlines that yield the greatest breakthroughs. Assigning accountability for finding a solution without a deadline is an open invitation for problems to multiply out of control.

Squirt gun vs. fire hose: This is a tough one that all leaders wrestle with. Can the problem be fixed with a squirt gun or does it need a high-pressure fire hose? True, there are times when reaching for the fire hose may seem like overkill, but most recurring problems happen because the squirt gun and its sugar water were nothing more than a quick fix. Problems tend to have multiple layers that squirt guns do little to reveal, let alone fix. Sometimes it takes a blast from the fire hose to see and wash away all of the underlying causes - and grab everyone's attention. There will be times when you blast a problem with your fire hose by mistake. No-compromise leaders handle such errors with respect and apology - and towel.

Feeding on solutions is the no-compromise approach. Feeding on problems just pulls you and everyone else deeper in the vortex of drama and lost opportunities.

Neil Ducoff is the founder and CEO of Strategies, a business training and coaching salon specializing in the salon and spa industry. Ducoff is the author of Fast Forward, and his new book, No-Compromise Leadership, is available at www.amazon.com. For a signed copy, go to www.strategies.com You can email Neil at neil@strategies.com