Strategic Problem Solving: Effective Management for Your Company
Encountering everyday problems in business is just a fact of life. How your employees, especially managers, deal with common setbacks may determine whether the company as a whole is successful in reaching its objectives.
An effective, strategic approach to problem solving, with an eye on the big picture, can help the organization thrive. While it may be tempting to assume this kind of perspective is something some employees are simply born with, it can more accurately be described as a soft skill. Problem solving is an ability that can be sharpened through a careful application of training.
Investing in soft skills training can guide your employees through difficult everyday situations. Managers who become better problem solvers may use their newfound knowledge to create a more suitable climate for their colleagues, while more junior employees can use new decision-making abilities to advance their careers and help their teams.
The first step in delivering a training program designed to improve strategy problem solving is to consider what type of soft skills will help your specific employees the most. This search for the most suitable courses begins with a simple question: What do you mean by “strategic problem solving?”
What is Strategic Problem Solving?
Being strategic, in general terms, means taking the long view and having an overarching plan. While tactics are the moment-to-moment approaches that get people through situations, a strategy is the general road map leading from Point A to Point B.
This means strategic problem solving involves taking a bird’s-eye view of issues and coming up with ways to overcome them, rather than always being forced to react to challenges in the moment. This focus on the larger picture means it’s especially important for leaders to come up with strategic solutions for problems, setting their teams up for success.
Contributing to the Houston Chronicle’s Small Business blog, Daniel R. Mueller stated when leaders practice strategic problem solving, they are “predicting problems that subordinates might encounter and documenting procedural solutions in advance, often through manuals or logic tree flowcharts.”
Seen from a rank-and-file employee’s perspective, this approach by managers comes with immediate and valuable benefits. When these workers encounter daily issues that might slow them down or prevent them from reaching their goals, they can take advantage of possible solutions generated by their managers and department leaders, keeping them on track and helping them thrive.
Since not every type of issue requires the same solution, leaders who are truly versed in strategic problem solving are experienced in multiple methods and techniques. Indeed listed 14 different methods for addressing common problems, ranging from diagramming to working backwards through a challenge to consulting with peers.
Good problem solving abilities are not necessarily natural or ingrained, and they can be taught through the application of effective training programs. Organizations that invest in their employees’ soft skills can be rewarded when common issues take less time and effort to correct than in the past.
How Do Companies Benefit from Strategic Problem Solving?
Having strategies in place to cope with different types of problems helps in various ways depending on the industry in question and the most common scenarios encountered in that line of work.
The general pattern involves resolving issues with confidence so employees don’t have to think on their feet. As for how that applies in practice, the outcome can range from quicker timelines to overall improved business results.
In his Houston Chronicle article, Mueller described a few of the ways various industries can apply strategic problem solving to their most common issues. For example, manufacturing firms may find themselves beset by small equipment problems that cause slowdowns. By developing flow charts that demonstrate the most likely potential solutions, leaders can help keep their teams moving quickly when these issues manifest.
Customer service may call for a problem solving strategy that is more complex and subtle than the kind of approach used on the manufacturing assembly line — an upset consumer does require more consideration than a broken conveyor belt, after all. However, the general theory of having prepared responses still rings true. When customer service employees are ready to deal with the most common complaints, they won’t have to escalate as many issues to management, saving time and keeping people happier.
Without a strategy in place, even a small problem can trip a business up, necessitating conversations around how to resolve the issue. In this way, strategic problem solving acts similarly to automation, taking some steps out and helping companies streamline their processes.
Where strategic problem solving differs from automation is that it involves human employees rather than machines. The skills needed to resolve issues strategically are soft skills, based on thoughtful decision-making and communication between groups of workers. Rather than writing a software program, you impart these abilities with soft skills training programs.
What Types of Employees Need Problem Solving Skills?
There are a few different ways to apply strategic problem solving to everyday work, depending on an employee’s role in the chain of command. Problem solving in general is a universal need since every worker encounters at least some issues during any given work day. Strategic problem solving, on the other hand, is especially applicable to managers.
The following are a few of the ways strategic problem solving can have an impact at different levels of an organization, and on the way various employees solve problems:
- High-level leadership: Individuals in positions of power within a company tend to set the tone for the business as a whole with their actions. The way they approach everyday tasks plays a major role in determining the company culture. When these leaders apply a strategic problem solving approach, laying out best practices and decision trees, they help other departments in the moment, and also show how the company approaches tough decisions.
- Team leaders: Employees look to their supervisors to set the tone of their work days. When team managers handle their work with a strategic and thought-out approach to problem solving, they can actively save their employees time and worry, helping them master the most common issues they’ll face in their daily work. Strategic thinking by a team leader sets the tone for the group, in the same way the upper management’s choices shape the company culture.
- Rank-and-file employees: When there’s an issue to be resolved, an employee often gets the call to take on the task. Whether this means unjamming a printer, troubleshooting a client complaint or removing a bug from code. When these workers are familiar with decision-making strategies, they’re better equipped to find potential solutions for common problems, either creating their own systems or looking to those handed down by their department leaders.
The pressure to resolve problems in a timely and efficient manner is shared by all members of an organization’s team. From leaders setting the tone to managers implementing overarching solution frameworks and workers putting them into action, everyone has a role to play.
What Are Some of the Most Important Problem Solving Skills?
The actual problem solving and decision-making skills and methodologies imparted by soft skills training likely cover a few thematic areas, to make sure employees can cope with a variety of situations. A McKinsey & Company overview of strategic approaches to problem solving shared a few of these methods, each of which may help leaders create plans to deal with any issues that arise.
- Trusting the wisdom of the crowd: Sometimes, taking a strategic approach to the problem solving process means avoiding the most apparent or close-to-hand solutions and admitting the best answer may come from outside. The right strategy to deal with a business’s problem may come from third-party sources, or the experiences of people who have never dealt with the company. Keeping an open mind could be the key that unlocks a difficult problem.
- Seeing beyond the immediate problem: As McKinsey explained, sometimes a “dragonfly eye” view is the best way to see an issue. This means taking a big-picture perspective and not just considering the challenge at hand. Thinking about the ecosystems in which the problem exists can help leaders develop novel solutions that get at root causes and do more to set their teams up for success.
- Not insisting on certainty: When developing possible solutions for common problems, some leaders may insist on creating approaches that are highly specific and leave no room for ambiguity. Greater success could come from considering the percentages and developing approaches that invite some room for doubt. Since it’s difficult to be certain about anything, this can be a way to resolve deadlocks and make progress.
Skilled problem solvers can bring these skills and more to bear on the most common issues plaguing their organizations, delivering ongoing value.
How Do Employees Build Their Problem Solving Skills and Expertise?
The way to become a better problem solver is relatively simple — employees build these skills through training. A well-balanced modern employee education program features courses for workers of all levels, with content selected for specific roles and industries.
At first, there may be some doubt about whether training can truly inspire employees to become better problem solvers, largely due to the flawed perception that soft skills are innate rather than learned. However, a wide variety of courses exist to help workers become more skilled at decision-making, collaboration, communication and more.
Complex problem solving strategies and decision making skills may be valuable components of optional, self-directed learning programs in addition to mandatory training. In an era when employees are eager to build their skills and prove their versatility, the availability of such courses may be a competitive edge for hiring.
What’s the Value of Modern Soft Skills Training?
Today’s training programs can offer advantages that weren’t available in the era when most trainings consisted of in-person, instructor-led sessions. Online, video-based courses on essential soft skills are affordable and flexible, allowing companies to train all their employees with consistent materials, even when a team is scattered across the globe.
New hires can immediately access the training content, with no need to arrange expensive learning sessions, and they can do so on their own schedules. Equipped with a library of digital soft skill training content, an organization can impart problem solving strategy ability on all levels of the business, delivering wide-ranging process changes. From there, consistently improved decision-making can deliver value for years to come.
Learn more about how you can get soft skills training here.