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Category Archives: Problem Solving Tools

Boiling the ocean will not result in good decisions

good decisionsAs a leader, it is your responsibility to make good decisions.  In your department or organization, you are likely called on repeatedly to evaluate and implement a variety of projects.  And many of these initiatives will probably require investigation and research in order to determine alternatives and make recommendations.  But exactly how much research should one do to be able to make good decisions?  That is a conundrum that many leaders face.

There are certainly situations where leaders have been known to make decisions too quickly, without considering all available information.  But in my experience, it is the opposite that is much more likely; in their quest for more data or analysis, the job or project is made unnecessarily difficult, and decision-making is delayed.

Don’t try to boil the ocean!

The apt metaphor in this situation is that of boiling a pot of water versus boiling the ocean.  Continue reading

How you admit your mistakes matters

ibdLast month, Morey Stettner from Investor’s Business Daily reached out to me as an expert source for a story he was writing for their “Leaders and Success” page.  He was interested in the best way for leaders to admit their mistakes, whether it was to their peers, their employees, their Board of Directors, or others.  This is the article that was published in their print edition last week on May 28:

Admit mistakes clearly to reassure others, not make matters worse

In addition to yours truly, Morey interviewed three other individuals, all of who provided excellent advice.

What have been your experiences?

But I’d like to know what you think?  Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you’ve either had to admit an error in judgment or report a problem and you handled it appropriately?  What about the opposite, when the outcome wasn’t what you’d hoped?  Or have you observed a senior leader in your organization admit mistakes well or poorly?  Please share by adding your comments below.

P.S. Morey found me as a result of this column I wrote for The Globe & Mail a year ago in May 2018: Why good leaders make grave mistakes − and still thrive.  If you haven’t seen it before, you may find this helpful as well.

Boost employee development by asking further questions in response to an employee’s query

In last week’s video instalment in our ongoing series on specific ideas for employee development and growth, I told you that getting your staff to train others is a very powerful way to improve their skill level.  Here is another.  Answer questions with another question.

Answer questions with another question

As leaders, employees often come to us with questions, and our natural instinct is to answer.  After all, we’re the leaders, right?  But in fact, we can significantly boost employee development simply by choosing to instead ASK questions of our employees instead of just answering them.  Let me explain.

When an employee comes to you with an issue or challenge, just giving them an answer may seem like the most expedient approach, particularly if you happen to know the answer.  But you will be losing out on a perfect opportunity for employee development.  Instead, if you make it a point to ask open-ended questions, you will actually help the employee think through the situation and arrive at an acceptable solution, all the while, helping them grow in skill and confidence.

So what are open-ended questions?  Continue reading

A decision-making insight from eating peanuts!

peanutsIf you’re a leader, then you’re responsible for decision-making.  Which is why it we have a whole section on Problem Solving tools on the blog.  Today’s insight comes from peanuts in the shell – a concession staple at just about any baseball game!

So think about the last time you purchased a bag of these tasty treats.  As you shelled the peanuts, did you put the empty shells back in the same bag?  Chances are you didn’t, likely for a couple of reasons.  One, because it instinctively doesn’t make sense to put the waste in with the good peanuts, and two (and perhaps more importantly), every time you put the unwanted shells back in the bag, you reduce your chances of getting a good peanut the next time you reach in.

How does this apply to decision-making in the workplace?

There is a workplace equivalent to this scenario, having to do with decision-making.  As a leader, you are charged with making a variety of decisions, often requiring you to select the best choice from a number of possible options.  Using this metaphor, it makes sense to discard choices as you evaluate them as unsuitable.  Why put them back in the bag where they’ll just continue to muddle and reduce the efficacy of your decision-making?  But that’s exactly what we often do.  Continue reading

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