Problem Solving & Decision Making

Problem solving and decision making are important for every consultant, business, and person in the world. After all, in the end, aren’t all entities and individuals just a sum of their choices? We’ll spare you the philosophical lecture, but we do want to provide some insight on why problem solving and decision making in the workplace is so important. We also want to give you problem solving and decision making examples to not only think about the topic, but take action.

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The Importance of Problem Solving and Decision Making

We all have our problems. While it would be great if we could just make them go away, life will continue on and your issues will persist unless taken care of. In the workplace, if a habit of problem solving is not set in the company’s culture, the firm will eventually crumble. As a result, employees need to have the right training and resources to autonomously and confidently solve business problems.

Decision making goes hand in hand with problem solving. If a problem is identified but no action takes place, things will only continue to get worse. However, blind and misguided decisions can also expound a problem, too. Consequently, it’s important to have a systematic and logical decision making process that’s guided by strong business instinct. In this way, problem solving and decision making in the workplace will be an asset for the rest of your career.

Problem solving and decision making are important attributes for any business leader. Though some personalities are more attuned to these skills, they can be learned and mastered by any individual. Think of the differences between the nerdier Bill Gates and the more playful Richard Branson – both are considered great business leaders though the two couldn’t be more different at face value.

The Problem Solving and Decision Making Process

Below, we have crafted a 5-step structured approach to making decisions for business leaders, but the process can also be used by individual employees for life as well as problem solving and decision making in the workplace.

Of course, practically speaking, you don’t need to follow every step for all your decisions, especially the smaller ones. However, for the big decisions that require deep thought and time, we think this process will serve you well.

  1. Clearly define and identify the problem

This may be the most overlooked part of the problem solving and decision making process because it’s so obvious. What’s important here though is to align with your team about the issue at hand.

You may be surprised how much can get lost in translation, especially in a large business organization. If your team is not aligned on the problem at hand – up to the small details and nuances – the rest of your process will go awry.

2. Gather information

Most problems cannot be solved without some amount of data or information. During this step of the process, what’s important is to gather the relevant information. Usually, having too much data hinders the decision making process and results in wasted time.

At the same time, there may be instances when gathering data results in a new perspective or a new problem. In this scenario, it may be worth going back to step 1 and revising the problem at hand.

3. Brainstorm possible solutions

This is the time to get creative. During this step, teams should not be afraid to throw out any and all ideas that may be solutions. Brainstorming works best in a judgment-free atmosphere because you just never know which idea will plant the seed and spark the eventual correct decision.

It’s also helpful to brainstorm at an individual level first and then come together as a team. Team brainstorming sessions can be dominated by stronger personalities and can prevent some individuals from voicing their opinions on the spot. If teams are given a chance to come up with thoughtful options, everyone will have more confidence and will be more likely to voice their ideas.

4. Narrow down the options

From the long list of potential ideas, now is the time to narrow them down into the top three to five. The ways you come to these top ideas can vary, but include any of the following methods:

    • Pros and cons list – identifying the advantages and disadvantages of each option
    • SWOT analysis – detailing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats from each option
    • Scenario analysis – projecting out the potential likely scenarios that will result from each option

Different problems will require different levels of insight into each potential option. By using the data and comparing each option relative to each other, you will arrive at a smarter solution.

5. Select the optimal solution and delegate

When choosing the final solution, keep in mind two things. First and foremost, select the option that has the business’ best interest at heart. There will be times when some employees or teams will be negatively affected by a decision. Have trust in the resiliency of your team and always push for the optimal solution.

Second, realize that not everyone will be happy. Only in rare instances will the entire company be happy with a big decision, and that’s okay. In most cases, employees who are initially unhappy will eventually see that the decision was made for the betterment of the business and will adapt accordingly.

After all this work, it would be a shame if nothing changed! After informing your team about the new solution, delegate the work to the employees who need to help implement the solution. Afterwards, ensure there are follow up procedures in place to check in on progress.

Problem Solving & Decision Making Examples

When you think about problem solving & decision making, you must also realize that we don’t live in a sterile environment. What we mean by this is that the person making the decision is influenced by external factors, that could (and probably will) influence their choices. If you’re unclear on this, check out recent articles on Mental Models and The Ladder of Inference. These two concepts together have a great influence on the decisions you make. But when thinking about problem solving and decision making in general, you must understand the priority at hand.

You could make a great decision, but what criteria is being used to determine if the decision was a good one? You must think from the client’s, manager’s, or partner’s perspective. It’s not about just giving the powers that be what they what, but rather about having enough context to the problem to consider what is in play and factor that into your decision. For example, look at these problem solving and decision making examples:

You’re a manager in charge of a project capturing client preferences and data. The business needs have been conveyed to you from both VPs and Directors. What do you do to deliver the project on time and in budget?

Brainstorm of factors in play:
    •  Are the VPs and Directors in agreement on the requirements?
    • What is the end goal?
    • What is the timeline given?
      • Is it reasonable?
    • What is the budget?
      • Is it reasonable?
    • Are there any factors to be aware of in the data collection?
      • Credit Card data protection?
      • HIPPA requirements?
      • Do the end users need access to the information after it’s collected?
    • What personnel are required for the project?
      • Are these resources available?
    • etc, etc.

What you don’t want is to deliver a deliverable that is unusable because you misunderstood the requirements. You, as a consultant, must be able to evaluate a circumstance and weigh the pros and cons. You must be able to see alternate solutions, and have a plan to get the client to where they need to go. Can you think of problem solving and decision making examples in your own life that you could apply this method to?

Concluding Thoughts

Problem solving and decision making in the workplace is undoubtedly an important skill. As a result, having the right systematic approach is essential. It may seem like a lot of work upfront, but taking the necessary steps to solving important problems and successfully arriving at a solution will save much more time and create a healthier business in the long run.

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