10 Problem-Solving Tips Every Small Business Owner Can Use

Many small business owners need a practical problem-solving tips they can apply to the issues created by COVID-19, and to facilitate business growth, in general. The bad news is, many employees don’t have the required core problem-solving or innovation skills. The numbers, in the Hays New Era of Work Report 2020, only 38% of employers currently have access to the right skills to enable them to meet the objectives, 15% are seeing a shortage.

Solution: Recruit

If the skills are missing internally, why not just recruit? Good question, given the current economic climate, budgets may not allow for this. But if they did, problem-solving skills are also missing on the outside as well.

Lack of problem solving is a big problem. Ask Google. As it happens, thousands of people do, common Google searches are:

  • How can I improve my problem-solving skills?
  • Problem-solving techniques
  • How to improve business performance?
  • How can I improve business operations?
  • Improve productivity

Take Action

Top tip, improve your problem-solving skills; 50% of large organizations rate this is a skill in high demand, (Hays). It might pay off! It’s time to reframe and refocus our thinking towards problem solving. Rather than something we do, problem solving should be thought of as a critical skill.

The good news is, problem solving isn’t hard, but it can be hard to do well.

10 Tips for Effective Business Problem Solving

These 10 problem-solving tips will help every small business owner thrive instead of struggle in the face of challenges.

1. Be Extremely Clear What the Problem Is

Check how the problem shows itself. How often, when, who, where, how, and what’s the impact, i.e. time or cost? Ask lots of questions; if data exists use it. Data is fantastic for framing a problem, removing emotion and checking if you have fixed the problem.

2. Take a Little Time to Write a Summary of the Problem

Writing the details down helps create clarity on what the problem is, its also useful when describing the issue to others, think of it as an elevator pitch.

If you want to show off, the jargon is, a Problem Statement. Not saying jargon is good, by the way.

3. Figure Out Who Can Help

The odds are you will need additional experience or expertise to fix the issue. Identify these people early and talk to them. It’s polite, and they can probably help you shape the Problem Statement and will be more engaged in the solution as a result.

4. Determine If the Problem a Symptom of a Deeper Problem

Is the current problem a sign of something bigger elsewhere in the business? Fixing the symptom often seems more comfortable; after all, that’s what people think they asked you to do. Maybe adding a simple extra step to a process or a workaround, but be warned the problem will reappear in a new form and that could be embarrassing if you said you fixed the problem.

5. Look at the Problem from Many Perspectives

There is usually a reason, maybe a good reason why something happens. Find out why or what is that, who benefits, why, how, are there unintended consequences. Do these relate to your problem?

Note, sometimes these reasons are hidden, or people don’t realise they are there in plain sight, ask simple open questions and be persistent.

6. Innovate Ideas

Now you have a clear view of the problem, supporting data, and a context/perspective. It’s time to innovate or be creative and design a solution.

You are only developing ideas at this point. DO NOT think about how they might work in the real world. Be careful not to edit yourself or the group; ‘stupid’ ideas could turn out to be excellent solutions. Important, take care to define any parameters or restrictions you need to work to; don’t be scared of these. Oddly, working within boundaries can enhance the creative thinking phase.

7. Filter Creative Ideas

Edit the creative ideas, take an excellent nugget and turn it into something useful and workable. Capture the essence, characteristics or themes of the ‘stupid’ ideas and build these into the solution to your defined problem.

Top tip, when building the idea, check it against the Problem Statement. Is what you are doing fixing the problem? It’s easy for the energy, enthusiasm and others to pull solution thinking in all directions. Whilst this might be okay, it might not fix your problem.

If this happens, talk to a manager for guidance. They might encourage the expanded scope, or they might not. Either way, try to stay chilled.

8. Test the Idea and Beware of Unintended Consequences

Unintended consequences will happen; after all, what you are doing touches many aspects of the business. Finding these now is okay and good, finding them later is not okay and painful.

You uncover the unintended consequences by testing your thinking, the logic of the solution. Run a simulation and don’t just pick the easy examples.

Imagine you were using the solution, what would you see and do? Ask people. I know, the feedback could be painful, noisy and sometimes unhelpful, but it could also help you improve the idea, find gaps or critical issues you missed.

9. Plan the Change

An easy check, how would you feel if it was done to you, be honest, or it won’t work? A fantastic idea or solution can or will fail if the change and implementation aren’t thought through.

People hate been ‘done to.’ I do, and I guess you do too? Your solution may change the way the people feel about their work, their position and value in the organization. These are powerful feelings that can work with you or against you. Remember, ‘people use processes.’ They should be at the heart of your thinking, problem solving and engagement.

More jargon, managing change or ‘change management’ is vital to the success of your problem solving.

10. Monitor the Implementation

Is it working as expected? Tip, don’t be shy to make changes, but take care not to react to noise and early adoption issues.

Problem solving doesn’t exist in a void, structure, collaboration, sharing and openness are key. Think about using business Improvement templates or tools; they are great for working through a mass of noise and seeing things for what they are, not what we think or want to see them as.

Getting started is always the hardest part. Don’t worry if it feels awkward or the initial results are ‘disappointing’. Use these problem-solving tips to plan your approach. Graft your way into the thinking, find the flow, find how to describe the issues and the ideas will come. Don’t panic when your clarity disappears, its part of the process, so keep going, it will return and check the Problem Statement if you get lost, that’s your compass.

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