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Category Archives: Problem Solving Tools

The sorites paradox – a leadership dilemma

The sorites paradox: if individual grains of sand are removed one at a time from a hypothetical heap of sand, what is the point at which the heap can no longer be considered a heap?  At first glance, you may think that this is merely a philosophical question, but the metaphor has great applicability if you carry it into the workplace.  Consider this: if minor seemingly harmless problems or changes go unnoticed and do not individually attract attention, is there a possibility that eventually the sum total of these issues over time will result in a major setback?  And what if the significant outcome is one that, if it would have happened all at once, would have been regarded as negative, undesirable or objectionable?

In the workplace, the sorites paradox is often referred to by a variety of synonyms – creeping normality, the broken window theory, the boiling frog syndrome, and even death by a thousand cuts.  But no matter what you call the phenomenon, all versions lead to a Continue reading

Watch for the negative impact of self-serving bias in decision-making

positive_negativeThe self-serving bias is a concept that has been extensively studied in social psychology.  Essentially, it is people’s tendency to attribute positive events to their own character but attribute negative events to external factors. It’s a common type of cognitive bias that exists in all aspects of life, including in the workplace.

For example, a salesperson who attributes a significant sale to his own business insight and relationship-building skills, but attributes a loss of a sale to the customer’s lack of acumen or the competitor’s unfair advantage may be exhibiting the self-serving bias. Similarly, a leader’s inclination to take credit for the team’s success, but to blame individual team members for mistakes or missteps is another common example of self-serving bias.

The self-serving bias can negatively impact decision-making

The problem of course with the self-serving bias is that it can negatively affect organizational decision-making.  For example, Continue reading

Worrying won’t help you solve problems or make decisions

A couple of years ago, I wrote a short series on decision-making here on the blog, and I was reminded of that recently when I read the following quote about worrying:

rockingchair“Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere”

― Erma Bombeck

These words were penned by Erma Bombeck, an American humorist, whose syndicated columns were read twice-weekly in the 1970s by 30 million readers of 900 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada.  Even though Erma’s columns were written primarily from the perspective of a midwestern suburban housewife, this particular adage carries sage advice for leaders.

Leadership is a non-stop journey of dealing with issues, some everyday problems, others full-blown crises. This constant barrage of concerns, complications and quarrels can leave many a leader anxious, uneasy and constantly worried … about what went wrong, what is wrong, and what could go wrong.  And even worse is when these very same leaders fool themselves into thinking that worrying is actually doing “something” about the issues at hand.  It isn’t.

Stop worrying, do this instead

So instead of worrying, consider this two alternative (and more constructive) strategies. Continue reading

When leaders make mistakes …

#$&*&@# happens!  Well-laid plans don’t always turn out exactly the way you’d anticipated.  A sale that was one signature away from being finalized falls apart at the last minute.  One missed detail takes a project down the wrong path and it then costs a significant amount to bring it back on track.  The leadership journey is fraught with unexpected challenges and unknown landmines, and sometimes even the smallest misstep by a leader can result in financial and reputational loss.  The reality is that despite your best efforts, mistakes happen.

It’s how you respond to the mistakes that will matter

Some mistakes will be small, ones that you can simply shrug off as minor bumps in the road.  But others will be large, ones that affect major company objectives, directly impact profitability, or put important relationships in jeopardy.  It’s how you respond to these large slip-ups that will determine whether you’re a leader or a manager.  In my column in today’s The Globe and Mail, I lay out the three essential actions that separate the leaders from the managers, the three steps you have to take in order to successfully move past these blunders.

Why good leaders make grave mistakes – and still thrive

When good leaders make grave mistakes

All decisions carry risk and therefore come with potential obstacles that can sometimes derail progress. But when bad stuff happens, what do you think separates the leaders from the managers?  I’ve given you the three necessary actions from my perspective, but I’d love to hear about your experiences and points of view.  Please share your thoughts by commenting below.

It’s time for the next customer service revolution

Customer satisfaction and customer service has been on my mind lately, primarily because I have experienced two situations first-hand recently in which two banks just didn’t get it!  Last November, I had an unfortunate interaction with ScotiaBank, and just earlier this month I blogged about how an employee at the Royal Bank couldn’t grasp the big picture.  Which got me musing about how customer service has changed significantly in just the last forty years, making it a moving target for those who aspire to exceptional levels.  When it came time to pen my regular column for The Globe and Mail, I guess it’s not very surprising then that I ended up writing about customer service. My column in this morning’s edition challenges you to envision three progressive possibilities that will ensure that your organization is at a significant competitive advantage.  You can read it here:

Artificial intelligence is the next revolution in customer service

customer service

 

Customer service has undergone at least two significant revolutions in the last forty years.  First with the invention of the 1-800 toll-free number, and then with the pervasive use of email.  Despite the significance of each of these two innovations, the underlying premise in customer service has always been to fix an issue identified by the buyer.  But it is 2018, so it is time to finally change that paradigm!  It’s time to fix the problem before your customer tells you about it.  The technology to power this transformation exists; it is called artificial intelligence, or AI.  And many companies have already harnessed its potential.

So, are you keeping up?  Or are you the company that makes your customers wait for hours on the phone for an issue to be resolved, or days for a response to an email query?  I would love to hear your perspectives on which organizations are ahead of the curve, and which are seriously far behind.  Please share your thoughts by commenting below.

Waiting for all the facts … and making decisions

making decisions“We need to wait until we have all the facts …” is something I hear many managers and supervisors say.  It’s often in response to an issue that needs to be dealt with or an unexpected problem that has occurred.  Usually the situation is a difficult one and because the manager has no prior experience with making decisions in an identical or similar scenario, s/he is stalling for time.  The unfortunate reality of course is that if you wait for all the facts, you might be waiting for a really (really) long time; perhaps even an eternity.

When it comes to making decisions, you will never have all the facts

Leadership is about making decisions – it’s inherent in the role of a leader.  The reality is that there are very few instances in which leaders will have complete information … ever.  Whether it is predicting customer behaviour, forecasting sales volumes, expecting employees to act in certain ways, or anticipating your competitors’ activities, you will simply never have all the facts.  Which means that the real question is Continue reading

Don’t just seek advice, pay attention to what you hear

Last year, I wrote a short series of posts on specific techniques you can use as a leader to improve the quality of your decision-making.  This story about a Swedish warship from the early 1600’s emphasizes not only the importance of approaching your team and experts to seek advice, but to also pay heed to the advice once you’ve heard it.

The tale of the Vasa: one king’s folly

seek adviceIn 1626, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden ordered the building of the Vasa, a new warship that was intended to become, for that era, the most powerful marine vessel in the Baltic Sea.  As was common in warships then, the Vasa was to have a rank of cannons on each side of the boat so that soldiers could easily fire at their attackers, no matter what direction the assault came from.

King Adolphus considered himself something of an expert boat designer so he took an immense interest in the actual design of the ship.  About mid-way during the ship’s two year construction, he learned that Poland, his greatest archenemy (and rival to take control of the Baltic Sea), had stepped up their naval firepower by building warships with ranks of cannons on two levels.  Well, Adolphus wasn’t going to be outdone!  Continue reading

When it comes to successfully solving problems in the workplace, molten rock might offer a clue!

As leaders, our days are often about solving problems, usually one after the other.  For that reason, this topic of solving problems comes up often on the blog.  In fact, my last post on this subject was exactly month ago (Making risky decisions: a simplified approach).  Today’s post is on this very subject, but my insight on an approach to solving problems came from an unexpected source.

What an adventure!

Last month I had the opportunity to do something very few people are fortunate enough to do – I was able to hike out (six miles over some of our planet’s most punishing terrain, but that’s not the fortunate part!) to the edge of an active lava flow on the Big Island of Hawai’i, and stand less than 20 feet away watching the molten rock slink and slither its way across the blistering earth.  Eventually this hot rock makes its way to the ocean, creating new shoreline hour by hour, day by day.   I filmed about 45 seconds of this experience on my iPhone, and you can see the video with my brief audio commentary below:

It was exhilarating to watch the raw power of the earth, up close and personal, and I found that 90 fascinating minutes fled by in what seemed like seconds.  Once I got over the initial elation of the experience though, I noticed that the flow was continuously changing course.  Continue reading

Improve your coaching skills by asking this one simple question

coachingBack in 2012, I posed this question on the blog: When your employee comes to you with a problem, do you tell or do you ask?  My point was that so many leaders have the tendency to “solve” our employees’ issues rather than coaching our employees to resolve the problems themselves.  Over the years, I have discovered one very simple, yet powerful, phrase can make the difference.  Ask: What do you think?

A powerful coaching moment

When an employee comes to you with an issue, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need to provide an answer.  Instead, use the opportunity to create a very powerful coaching moment.  The chances are high that your employee already has a very good idea as to what the solution should be, and only really wants to discuss it with you and get your concurrence.  When you ask “What do you think?”, you are opening the door for a dialogue that not only will lead to a solution, but will also build your employee’s self-confidence as well as enhance problem-solving skills.  Continue reading

Making risky decisions: a simplified approach

Making risky decisionsBy definition, there is always uncertainty in making risky decisions; after all, the old adage “no risk, no reward” holds true.  No doubt, leadership instinct and past experience play an important role in determining whether the possible reward is worth the perceived risk, but I am nevertheless often asked by leaders whether there is a more systematic approach to making risky decisions.  Decision-making theory abounds with a plethora of techniques and methods, but there is one relatively simple approach that I have found to repeatedly give positive results.  Ask yourself: does making the decision result in more options or fewer?  If the answer is more choices, then move forward.  If the answer is fewer options, then don’t take that action.

Here is one example

Let’s consider an example to illustrate this approach.  You are trying to decide whether to invest in a new piece of equipment for your manufacturing operation.  There are several risks involved with this purchase including Continue reading