Every business faces major problems that put its future at risk. Whether these problems are in supply chain, sales, HR, or product design, how your business responds to these problems will help shape what the business becomes in the future. How businesses respond to problems is one of the key ways great businesses set themselves apart.
Larger businesses often have the luxury of being able to throw money at their hardest and most important problems. Smaller businesses must run leaner, and therefore need to solve their hard problems to root cause instead. This means each problem is a greater challenge, but it also means there is little temptation to get lazy: many of these problems are win-or-die situations.
The best small businesses will turn their problems into opportunities to grow, learn more about their business, and improve their problem solving capacity. Such businesses approach problems fundamentally differently than others: instead of brainstorming or creating work-arounds to their problems, they adopt a set of behaviors that give them the ability to hunt down the root cause of their problem.
Embrace Your Ignorance
You know a lot about your business, but it’s recognizing and learning what you don’t yet know that leads to big breakthroughs. As a leader, stop worrying about seeming stupid or resting on your reputation. Instead, get curious and ask lots of questions. Reward your team for doing so. It will help you see the problem with fresh eyes.
Define the Problem
You can’t fix a problem when you don’t know what it is. Upfront time spent on defining the problem with precision will prevent you from jumping to conclusions or making bad assumptions, all of which are likely to be a waste of time at best. Get away from your desk and the conference room table, and get out into the field. Ask relevant questions, use your senses, and employ the tools at your disposal to really see the issue.
Focus on Fundamentals
Do the work to understand how your problematic process or system works, including the basic science behind it. This understanding will allow you to focus your efforts on what directly controls the problem, limiting your investigation to the parts of the system that are most relevant. Keep it simple. Don’t assume a complex problem requires a complex solution.
Partner With Experts
A small business may be tempted to utilize experts more often to supplement the skills of its smaller team. While subject-matter experts can help you learn a lot about your system or problem, don’t hand them the responsibility for solving the problem. Active collaboration will be critical to understanding complex systems and their underlying functionality and science. The best problem-solvers drive the search for solutions themselves and see experts as partners rather than saviors.
Find the Facts
Many smaller businesses are more dependent upon individual relationships and personalities for day to day operation than larger ones. But decisions based on opinion, personality, or consensus won’t actually solve the problem you face. Great problem solving cultures insist on exclusively using evidence and facts when they’re making decisions. Verify what you’re told by both people and data to ensure that what you’re seeing represents reality.
Stabs in the dark are likely to get someone hurt. And as a small business, you don’t have spare resources to waste on trying out different ideas that probably won’t work. In short, you cannot afford for your problem-solving culture to center around guessing.
Be a detective by developing methodical ways of investigating the problem. Become hyper aware of when you fall into the “guessing game” by randomly trying things out. Develop these and other problem-solving behaviors in order to develop a problem solving culture that rockets through its hardest problems, and comes out stronger for it.
Whether tackling a production snafu, a crisis in accounting, or any other challenge, these six tips will help you develop great problem-solving skills in your business. Avoid guesswork and take a structured approach that eventually reveals how the failure happened. Once such an approach becomes a habit, you’ll see your small business starting to become one of the elite few that can weather any storm and turn any problem into opportunity.