parallax background


APRIL 26, 2019
Post with youtube / vimeo
February 8, 2016
Intro Header
July 5, 2016


By: Kerri Meyer

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. - Martin Luther King, Jr.

No one escapes this life without challenges and obstacles, but there are those amongst us who seem to be able to tackle even the most difficult circumstances with grace, precision and an effectiveness and efficiency that sets them apart. I’m not about to offer you yet another problem-solving methodology or process. If you’re interested in that, a simple Google search on “problem solving process” will yield you hundreds of different flavors of essentially similar methodologies. What I’d like to share instead, are a few key practices that you can immediately apply to Simplify Your Next Challenge, whether that challenge is one in your personal or professional life. 1. Adopt a curious mindset. Assuming or adopting a curious mindset means that instead of spending energy feeling overwhelmed, frustrated or anxious you instead immediately begin to ask questions of yourself or others. Children have a natural curiosity and ask the question “why” often. It would do us well to adopt a similar approach. The questions might begin as simply “what might be my first step in tackling this challenge?” Or, perhaps you might consider asking yourself why a challenge is making you feel a certain way and then thinking through how to move past those feelings. Time bound questions can also provide useful input, such as “if I had to solve this challenge in ½ the time or with ½ the resources, how might I prioritize differently, reduce the scope of it to accomplish that or how would I spend my time differently?” Asking “how might I” questions allows you to shift your perspective to be in a space of brainstorming and inquiry, allowing you to broadly consider a variety of inputs before narrowing to an action plan. If you’re considering all of the possibilities first, it could prove easier to take that first step toward solving the challenge. At the very least, you’ll end up with a more effective and efficient process. Curiosity should extend to the stakeholders of your challenge as well. Who are the people affected by this challenge, and what are their thoughts regarding what success might look like? It is tempting to dive straight into problem solving before spending necessary time in dialogue with stakeholders, but resist the urge. Stay open and curious and ask questions such as:
• “What would success look like to you?”
• “What advice do you have for me in tackling this challenge?”
• “What data is available for me to evaluate?”
• “Who else is it important for me to speak to or consider?”
• “What measures will I need in place to tell me whether we’ve met with success or not?”

No one escapes this life without challenges and obstacles..

2.Separate Symptoms from Root Causes. Sometimes we seek to solve a problem that really isn’t the issue that needs to be solved at all. If my child comes to me with a fever and chills and I give him cold medicine, that might work to alleviate his symptoms. But it might not. It certainly won’t help if the cause of the fever and chills is food poisoning! Taking the time to put pen to paper to write down all that you know or have heard about your challenge can help you begin to differentiate between symptom and root cause. This is where you play detective or sleuth. In the process, you may even begin to play the role of a roving reporter or journalist as you ask questions of others.
Let’s say for example, that I’ve been challenged with creating a training program for a team that is not performing as well as other teams in their business unit. After spending some time with my initial stakeholder that has brought me in to consult, I learn that he believes that the team needs customer service training. I have been provided with the following information and validated the data:
• The team’s AHT (average handle time) is 20% lower than their peer teams, and their manager and the team members themselves validate that they are able to finish their calls faster than their peers;
• Customer Satisfaction scores are lowest amongst all teams, 15 points below the highest rated team; and
• Team members report that they love what they do, and on Annual Employee Surveys have shown that their team has the highest overall score for Employee Engagement.

What’s going on here then? Given the information above, many might assume that this team simply needs some intervention in the Customer Service area…maybe some training. However, that would be reacting to a symptom, not the root cause and that could be very expensive if I were to create or buy a Customer Service program and implement it, only to find it isn’t making an impact. Let’s take a closer look. In this real-life example, after adopting a curious mindset and actually sitting with these call center representatives to watch their process in action, I heard a familiar phrase repeated consistently. The company’s IT infrastructure was a little slow at times, and therefore when representatives were waiting for their computer to “catch up” and process, they would often remark to the customer on the phone something to the effect of “Sorry, but our system is really slow.” This seemingly innocuous statement was having real impact on the team’s bottom line CSAT score however, particularly since the company in question was considered a top tech company. To validate that, I followed up with a large number of customers who had rated this team poorly on one particular question on the customer end-of-call survey. What was discovered was that the statement the representatives made about the systems being slow translated in customers’ minds to something like “I am not entirely satisfied with this experience, because I perceive it takes too long, particularly because this ‘tech’ company should be ahead of the curve in their systems and processing ability.” Simply eliminating that phrase from the team’s vocabulary and replacing it with a more positive, proactive approach such as “while we wait for this to process, let me ask you how everything is going with your account” or “while we wait, have you considered our other products?” caused those CSAT scores to rapidly gain traction over the next few weeks and generated new referrals. No massive training program intervention or wasted time and resources! Soon, that team that had consistently sat at the bottom of the rankings was the top team in all categories. Pausing to allow yourself time to reflect on whether something is really fact or assumption, symptom or root cause, will allow you to systematically tackle a challenge. It might even allow you to avoid a costly intervention.



3.Design a path forward. After you have isolated the problem to solve, generate as many solution ideas as possible. Don’t be afraid to go for big, bold, audacious ideas. Assign no judgement during this phase; your goal is to get as many ideas on the table as possible, no matter how far-fetched they may seem. For some different ways to approach the solution brainstorming process, check out “20 Problem Solving Activities to Improve Creativity” by Andrew Tarvin here. It's important to allow enough time to brainstorm, for failing to do so could leave some of the most innovative approaches unexplored. To see why, check out this Fast Company article on why You're probably not brainstorming long enough . Once your brainstorming period has stopped, you will need to narrow your ideas so that you can choose one or more to test or pursue. Here are some resources for you to consider when narrowing your brainstorming output:
5 Tips for Narrowing Down Ideas After Brainstorming Brainstorming: We Have Lots of Ideas, Now What? After narrowing to one solution to pursue, outline the steps to get you to your desired outcome. It may be helpful to begin with the end in mind, and work backward from there, defining key milestones to hit along the way. Breaking it further down into tasks will give you even more detail as to what you need to do first, next, etc.

4.Enlist help if and where needed. Let’s face it, you’re not going to be a superstar at every aspect of solving every challenge. Have you ever noticed that some of the most creative minds, who are wonderful at generating loads of ideas, have the most trouble implementing them? Others are skilled in implementation, but struggle with selecting a solution to pursue. Don’t be afraid to enlist others in helping you solve your challenge. Someone once told me that by me not asking for help from others, I was depriving them of joy. What a powerful idea! The thought goes that by denying others the opportunity to assist you, you may be denying them an opportunity of growth, development or satisfaction. So, don’t be a “denier of joy” – ask for help when you need it. Besides, personal or professional challenges are made easier when shared with others. As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.”

5.Communicate your results. Don’t let your results and insights get lost or overlooked. Instead, thoughtfully determine who should be aware of the results of your challenge. Sharing your results raises awareness of your project or challenge, and honors the investment of time, resources or energy that others may have contributed to it, thereby increasing trust and buy-in amongst your stakeholders. This doesn’t just apply to professional challenges. Let’s imagine you invested significant time and energy into a friend who was looking for employment. Maybe you helped them prepare for interviewing, helped revise their résumé, and even helped pick out interview attire. Imagine how it would feel if they got a great new job, partially because of your assistance, and you never heard a word from them. That lack of closure would no doubt leave you having some unsettled feelings. Human beings are wired for connection; and that connection extends beyond just the initial “assistance” event. With respect to closing out a professional challenge, it’s sometimes helpful to build a simple matrix that helps you organize your target audience, what type of information they’ll want to receive and the strategy by which you’ll provide the results to them. Here is an example:

The next time you face a personal or professional challenge and feel “stuck,” consider adopting some of the practices outlined here. Begin with curiosity, separate symptoms from root causes, go broad then narrow with brainstormed ideas, and select one to test out or implement. Then make sure to communicate with all those who have a vested interest in your success. You’ll be glad you did! And, if along the way, you find you need support or coaching, let SYNC help you simplify your next challenge. We’re here to help!