The following is a guest post by Tom Salonek.
In technology, a big part of our job involves solving problems. Perhaps we’re trying to figure out how to integrate a new software package into our existing architecture, or maybe we need to find a way to make a program run faster. But no matter what the work situation, problems are always challenges to be met with creativity, energy and persistence.
Some think that problems in a business are evidence that people are doing something wrong. Sometimes leaders deny or ignore dealing with problems because they’re afraid of such negative judgments. Others simply feel too busy to focus on problems until they become big, fat, hairy monsters.
Running a strong business, writing software, working with others. . . or whatever else you’re doing on this planet means there will be challenges. I’ve found if you don’t accept these little monsters, embrace them and meet them head on – early on – they can turn into insurmountable ogres pretty quickly.
Voltaire is usually credited with the saying “No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.” When you change your mindset to one that sees problems as challenges to be conquered, it’s pretty easy to find them and solve them. Although dealing with problems is part of any job, leaders must be particularly skilled problem-solvers.
Here’s a simple process I’ve used time and again to help define problems and slay them early:
1. First, you need to make sure you know what the problem really is. Do some detective work and don’t assume the problem is only what appears on the surface. Personnel issues are often the result of overly difficult processes, for example. If the problem seems too big or overwhelming, break it down into something that’s more manageable to solve.
2. Next, list all the possible solutions or ideas that might help slay this monster. We consider EVERY idea during our brainstorming sessions at Intertech, without judging or dismissing anything at first glance. This helps create a problem-solving environment that is creative and productive.
3. We prioritize our solutions list from “first to worst” and really try to determine the steps or strategies that will work.
4. Finally, we implement the solution, identify a champion who’ll ultimately be responsible and accountable for the solution, and schedule follow-up meetings. This holds us accountable and ensures that the monster really is slayed – not just swept under the rug.
As a services and training firm, our clients are our bread and butter. It’s extremely important that every client issue – whether it’s a simple misunderstanding or a missed deadline – be handled thoroughly and with care.
I try to create a culture where problems are investigated and communicated about in a proactive manner, not just to smooth them over. We’re not interested in playing the blame game. We want to deal with problems and then to move forward in the most positive way possible. This has been key to our growth.
In a weird way, problems are evidence that something is going very right. As my father used to tell me, “Only he who does nothing will make no mistakes!” People who are making an honest effort are bound to screw up now and again. Sometimes, we even learn important things in the process.
Obviously, we’re all busy and it’s impossible to catch every problem in its infancy. But creating a culture that embraces the act of finding, solving and overcoming problems – where baby monsters are slayed on a regular basis – can be vital to the success of your business. It certainly has been for mine.
Tom Salonek is the founder and CEO of Intertech, a successful technology and training company in the upper Midwest. Intertech has been named to the Inc 500 list of fastest growing companies in the nation and is a seven-time “Best Places to Work” winner in Minnesota. Building a Winning Business: 70 Takeaways is Tom’s first book. He also blogs at www.tomsalonek.com.