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By The Numbers

Workplace Survey, Findings

1.Workers are struggling to work effectively. 

When focus is compromised in pursuit of Collaboration, neither works well.

2. Effective workplaces balance focus and collaboration. 

Workplaces designed to enable collaboration without sacrificing employees’ ability to focus are more successful.

3. Choice drives performance and innovation. 

Employers who provide a spectrum of choices for when and where to work are seen as more innovative and have higher-performing employees.

 

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THE PROBLEM TO SOLVE PROBLEMS

Problem_SolvingEvery decision involves problem solving. However, our problem-solving ability in management is so limited because our models of problem-solving are devoid of people while actual problem-solving isn’t.


Executive managers can be extremely well educated with many years of experience; they may also be successful managers who have accomplished great things - but frequently their ability to solve a problem is severely limited. That sounds like a paradox, but people cannot define the problem they are trying to solve.

 

Every decision involves problem solving. In some cases we employ professionals who do that job - they’re called project managers and administrators and so on. They are certainly a part of that process, but what happens when you have to anticipate an issue or when you don’t have an established process or routine to deal with it? You have to define the issue before you can pick a routine to address it.


 

 

In principle, it is a simple exercise: define a problem, identify options, pick the best and communicate the finding. Since the Renaissance, science has progressed using this formula. Management consultants advocate a similar approach in their work. Yet, often managerial conversations resemble more expressions of dogma (“I believe…”) or contestants sparring on a TV general knowledge contest (“sales in the northeast in July are double those of the entire west in December”) than informed argument.

 

If you look at engineering or architecture, the ability of people to explain the problem they’re working on and ask questions so they can get feedback is very high without their need to resort to either dogma or trivia. They are helped by reference to blueprints which are a highly codified way of communicating. Our equivalent in management is jargon. Like blueprints, jargon was invented to make our exchanges efficient (we all know what is meant by a ‘functional organization’). But the analogy to the blueprint ends when jargon becomes meaningless. It is also a sure way of eradicating any arguments left standing from the onslaught of dogma or trivia.

 

Also Law is often used to illustrate informed argument. Medicine is another good example. Every time doctors deal with a case, they have to define it. Before you do anything for a patient you have to define what you think the problem is and then coordinate a large array of resources to address that. You form hypotheses all the time, you take feedback, you reassess your hypotheses as you go along, you use different resources as a result and so on.

 

The reason that our problem-solving ability in management is so limited is because our models of problem-solving are devoid of people while actual problem-solving isn’t. As useful as a decision tree might be as an analytical abstraction, the issue is how do you actually define a problem with the help of others around you? Who should these people be? What kind of input should you be asking from them? Which part of that input should you disregard? Which part of that input should you take into account?

Most executives are prone to action. By the time many start to articulate a question, they already have an answer for it. But what is the problem that you’re trying to solve and what are the possible ways that you can go about doing it?

 

Yiorgos Mylonades, an Adjunct Professor of Strategic and International Management at London Business School, explains: “On my programs, I encourage and direct people to define problems and to then seek resolutions. Before they even start applying their ideas, I ask them to define the problem. They find that extremely hard. They have no problem understanding the five forces and applying the five forces in their chosen industry. They can do that with their eyes closed. But, asking them to think what is the problem for which all of that analysis might end up being useful, is something they find extremely hard. And then, at the end I ask them, “Now that you’ve done all of this analysis, how can you help address the question you set at the beginning? What recommendations would you provide to this company?”

 

Problem solving has universal applicability that goes beyond the executive classroom. As the Chinese saying goes, every grand accomplishment seems at first impossible. Conversely, just getting started on a problem, the Greeks claim, is halfway to solving it. It is hard, though, to get started in problem solving when our tools do not take the social reality of the problem-solving process into account. The sooner we can arrive at a common understanding for problem-solving - one that involves people - the more value we can help unlock.