Problems creep up in HR every day – probably more than you’d like. And you might be tempted to jump in and solve problems immediately.
But slow down, hero! There could be a more effective way to tackle HR and organizational problems.
“This forceful approach to problem-solving will at times be like cracking eggs with a hammer,” says Ed Batista, an executive coach. “Something gets accomplished, but a mess is made in the process.”
Instead, Batista suggests you consider these six questions first:
1. Is there a problem?
Many so-called problems are situations that can be untangled by the alarmists who bring them to management. Some “problems” are the product of misconstrued perceptions – and require nothing more than a change of attitude.
Whether a problem is reported, someone you support brings it to your attention or you feel you have one, consider the consequences of not doing anything.
The good news: If there are no consequences, it’s not a problem to be solved.
2. What is the problem?
The stated problem may not be the actual problem. So you want to sort out the real issue before you try to solve problems that might not be at the root.
When an employee or boss brings a genuine problem to you, gather more facts.
There’s a danger that anyone involved in a problem – from front-line employees to the CEO – will be “confidently wrong,” says Batista. Here’s why: They’ve had experience with the problem or they’ve been working with it for a while, so they believe in what they know.
But there’s often other critical information – differing views, background, data, previously tried solutions – that can help everyone determine the real problem.
So talk to more people and look at documented facts to find what you don’t know about the problem.
3. What might be the solution?
Because good and confident leaders like you can often diagnose problems quickly through observation and fact-gathering, they sometimes use those skills to solve problems quickly.
That can lead to stress and picking a fast and seemingly obvious solution that’s not right.
Instead, Batista suggests slowing down to make a stress assessment. If it’s high, stop thinking about the issue. When stress levels are low, everyone is more equipped to think expansively and with intuition.
Also, if you can stay calm and consider options, everyone involved in the problem will likely ease up, too. That provides the ideal atmosphere to solve problems.
4. How do we add to the problem?
In haste to solve problems, people sometimes miss how their behavior contributes even more to the issue.
The truth is, good intentions don’t translate into positive results. That’s why you want to assess how the actions of everyone involved in solving the problem affect the outcome. For instance, if one key person is a procrastinator, you might want to remove him from problem-solving urgent issues. Or if another person is an alarmist, you’ll want to limit her involvement early in the issue.
Also ask for feedback, letting everyone know it’s OK to point out what you might be doing to make the situation worse.
5. Who owns the decision?
Even if employees asked for help, or you identified your problem, you might not be the ideal person to search for solutions or solve problems.
In fact, you might be the bottleneck: If people have to wait for you to pick a solution, it might make the problem worse.
Identify when you need to decide, consult or delegate. You might even ask other leaders to do the same so they don’t become bottlenecks when they just need to delegate.
6. How ready are we to change?
Most solutions require a change, which creates another step when you solve problems: getting others to accept the change.
Big problems with major consequences need solutions implemented immediately, so most people will need to change quickly. Keep them updated to avoid pushback.
For less-pressing changes, set the stage with plenty of communication, time frames and potential setbacks.