At one point in Neil Simon’s Tony Award-winning Biloxi Blues, Sgt. Merwin Toomey tells his young recruit, Eugene Morris Jerome, “If there were no such thing as problems, we could all go home at lunch.”
As managers, regardless of title or type of facility, we’re all problem solvers – or we better be. Not only do most of us face enough problems to keep us from going home at lunch, but solving them is also what is expected of us by our boards, general managers, owners and employees.
The best problem solvers share a number of characteristics:
- They plan for problems. Many managers develop sound and well-conceived plans. Then something unexpected happens. Effective planners develop back-up plans to deal with unforeseen or unintended outcomes.
- They use rigorous logic and progressive-step methods of analysis. They organize their work into constructive increments.
- They tap into substantial reserves of research and data to make fact-base decisions. But they’re also capable of learning on the fly. They can harness emerging information, and search for patterns from previous study and experience to extract the underlying essence of how things work.
- They are comfortable being uncomfortable. They often enjoy the challenge of unfamiliar problems.
- They continually expand their network of resources. They use professional and peer networks to learn how others have dealt with similar challenges.
- They research other business segments and disciplines for solutions to similar problems. They leave no stones unturned. If more research is needed, they dig back in to explore creative ideas, continually testing new theories and hunches.
- They are positive, determined and patient. They roll up their sleeves and get to work, knowing that problems seldom solve themselves and that a solution exists for every problem.
- And when the solution is found, they share so their fellow professionals can learn from the problem and the solution-finding process. Writing white papers for magazines or presenting your experience in peer-study programs expands everyone’s knowledge and proves you to be a tireless learner and a genuine professional.
In contrast, unskilled problem solvers struggle to find new solutions in time-worn practices. They often miss the complexity of an issue and try to force-fit simplistic solutions.
Effective leaders and managers develop their problem-solving skills through a variety of means: formal continuing education, trial-and-error and with the help of mentors. While there is no substitute for the experience of having faced a major problem and figured out a solution, you also can learn to be a more effective problem solver. Here are three strategies:
The golf business offers terrific resources, including associations, consultants and peers who have a shared interest in helping to find the best solution. Some people are too proud to ask for assistance, but their stubborn and prideful isolation not only compounds the original problem but deprives them of relationships with the many generous and knowledgeable people in our business.
Work the problem
One need not solve all problems or even every aspect of one. It’s like the answer to the question, “How do you eat an elephant?” One bite at a time. The key is to break the problem into manageable chunks, solve that part of the problem and move on to the next step. If you have a strategic plan, prioritizing problems becomes easier because your plan tells you which problems are standing in the way of meeting your objectives.
Stephen Covey advised “begin with the end in mind,” which is the approach of diligent problem solvers. What will success look like? What will it take – whether it’s capital, labor or persuasion – to get there? Reverse engineering brings focus to the intended outcome. Use it as your magnetic north.
Our jobs surround us with problems, making problem solving the unwritten part of every job description. The better problem solver you become, the more valuable you will be in any position your career takes you.