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Problem solving is one of a manager’s principal functions, yet many managers will refuse to acknowledge that problems exist in order to avoid dealing with them. Others will solve problems only when it becomes necessary, dealing with just the most urgent, but the best managers will search for problems, anticipating where and when they may pop up and dealing with them before they become urgent.

Management must be able to get to the root of a problem in order to solve it. Problems occur when expectations are not met. Perhaps a target has been missed, performance levels have dipped or a new policy has not had the desired effect. Manager have to be able to distinguish between the cause of the problem and the symptoms. If management work to treat symptoms rather than cure the problem it will rarely lead to a solution.

A manager should use his judgement, experience and intuition to get to know the underlying causes of the problem. Too many managers leap into problem solving with only a limited understanding of what caused the problem in the first place. Digging deeper can often allow management to come up with a better solution.

Hints of Impending Problems

A manager should think about when and where the problem occurred, which members of staff were involved and whether they had received the required training. Also consider the facilities and equipment involved, whether a crisis or unusual event contributed to the problem and if there were any hints of an impending problem.

Problem-solving techniques vary. Some managers prefer a systematic style of problem solving, following rules step by step to reach a solution. Others are more intuitive and are more comfortable with solutions that just come to them.

A manager should try to be creative when problem solving. Use brainstorming and include staff in order to generate new and unusual solutions and build on ideas. Once a list of possible solutions has been generated, it is up to the manager to choose one.

Pick the Best Solution

The size and complexity of the problem will dictate how long the manager has to pick the best solution, and often two managers faced with the same possible solutions will choose different ones. Often the solution with the greatest potential will also carry the greatest risk, so a manager has to weigh up this risk and bear in mind the mission, goals and culture of the company.

The next and, in many ways, most crucial step is to implement the solution. There is no point spending time identifying problems, using creative problem-solving techniques to find solutions and assessing risks and potential gains to pick the best solution unless there are sufficient resources in place to implement that solution.

A manager may have to use their powers of persuasion to secure additional resources from bosses, or to get the backing of staff if the solution requires a change in working practice. Do not make the mistake of believing the solution is guaranteed to work as soon as it is implemented, either. Effective problem solving requires a manager to evaluate progress on an ongoing basis to ensure the solution is having the desired effect.

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