Problem solving skills have always been highly desirable but they are critical in times of uncertainty. Crisis situations have a way of shining the light on problems that are easily ignored during times of prosperity. Minor annoyances become glaring shortcomings. No longer is it acceptable to push aside long needed process improvements; or sit idly by as money slides out the door because of lack of training; or, to accept less than excellent customer service.

The question on everyone’s minds is, ‘What will business look like six months or 18 months from now?’ Nobody knows, which is what makes problem solving hard, but we can probably all agree that it won’t be the same as it was pre-COVID19. Taking a wait and see approach is dangerous. At some point, the ‘way we’ve always done it’ no longer works and you have to adapt. The organizations that will not only survive but will thrive are the ones who are able to adapt to the new reality.

You might be thinking, ‘I don’t have time to solve problems. I’m doing everything I can to keep my head above water as it is. I need to act fast.’ Let me assure you, there has never been a better time to dedicate your time to problem solving. Why? Because knee-jerk reactions almost always result in a bigger problem than the one you were trying to solve. While it does take a little more time on the front end to solve a problem effectively, the time you save on the back end will be well worth it.

Being able to adapt successfully requires problem solving skills. The first step in effective problem solving is to decide what problem to solve. Not all problems are worth solving. And the solution should never be worse than the problem itself. In other words, never spend more resources on a solution than the problem caused in the first place.

Let’s focus on five types of problems that are worth solving:

  1. Productivity
  2. Efficiency
  3. Quality
  4. Cost
  5. Employee motivation

Productivity

Is it really a good time to lay people off? Small businesses are facing a difficult decision. If they receive a Paycheck Protection Program loan from the SBA the money has to be used to pay their employees within 8 weeks of receiving the funds for the loan to be forgiven. The problem for many small businesses is that they don’t have any work for their employees to do so they laid them off. There’s never been a better time to make improvements, update systems, or start projects you’ve been putting off because everyone was too busy. Solving this type of problem will pay off for years to come.

Efficiency

Everyone wants everything right now. This is human nature and is nothing new. We don’t like to wait. If you can’t fulfill an order your customers will find someone who can. When business was good it wasn’t that big a deal to lose a customer to a competitor who could do it faster. Efficiency problems are always worth solving. When every dollar counts it is more critical than ever. There is always a way to doing something faster.

Quality

Many organizations are converting live meetings, events, and conferences into virtual programs but the quality is so poor it could be doing more harm than good. You can easily see this for yourself if you turn on the news. It won’t take long to see a guest with pixelated video and garbled sound. It harms the credibility of both the producer and the guest. In this case the solution – connecting virtually – is worse than the problem – not meeting in person.

Cost

Cost reduction should always be important but it sometimes takes a back burner when business is booming and the dough is rolling in. When revenues are $40mm annually, a $1.5mm leak due to missed charges doesn’t seem like that big of deal. That same $1.5mm looks a lot bigger when revenues dry up because your customers have been forced to close their doors and have no need for your product. Saving $1.5mm then could have been used to extend operations now.

Employee appreciation

Some employees are asking their employers what the incentive is to come back to work when they can make more money collecting unemployment. That is a perfect example of the solution being worse than the problem. A solution should never create a bigger problem than the one it was designed to solve. While the intention of the U.S. Department of Labor’s decision to enhance unemployment benefits was good, it now leaves employers with a new problem. How do you incentivize employees to come back to work?

Each of these examples existed before COVID19. They just didn’t seem as pressing. The best time to solve these problems would have been before COVID19. The second-best time to solve them is now. Times have changed and the future is unknown but one thing remains certain: you will always have problems to solve.

How do you decide which problem is worth solving? What is your biggest pain point right now? Not having up-to-date systems in place? Inefficient processes creating customer issues? Quality issues harming your reputation? Unnecessary costs affecting the bottom line? Motivating employees to work?

Don’t try to solve all the problems at once. For lasting change, focus on one at a time. Invest your time, money, and energy in solving the right problems the right way to set your organization and yourself up for success for the future.

Liz Uram is a nationally-recognized speaker, trainer, and consultant who is known as the Queen of Ops for her ability to solve problems and get results better, faster, and cheaper.

Problem Solving in the Age of COVID19