Friday, November 27, 2015

Are problems your problem?

Many organizations, and likewise the individuals working there, struggle with the notion of "Problems".
A "shoot-the-messenger" culture makes it impossible to name, much less claim ownership for, problems. To be able to still deal with reality, the very term "problem", inherently considered bad and a career-killer, gets sugar-coated or diluted. People start talking about "impediments", "issues" instead - and avoid doing that as long and much as possible.

Problems are not bad

Innately, a "problem" is just a "problem". It means that something does not work out as originally planned. This is not bad, it just means we have to change the plan - we might still reach the desired outcome.
The first step is to accept that "problem" is a neutral term, indicating "need for change" - neither good, nor bad.

Apples and ... Problems

Let's compare a problem to an apple. You can either get the value from the apple (eating it) or let it rot. Once you have the apple, you either take advantage of it, or it spoils.  That's totally up to you.
Treat your problems the same way: When you see one, try to get as much value out of it as possible. By ignoring it, your value will be Zero, but you will still be stuck with the cost of disposal.

Where do Problems come from? 

Can't we just make a better plan to avoid problems? Don't problems just reveal the incompetence of the planner? These are typical questions from a problem-averse company.
But we must accept that the world isn't simple. Problems arise not only because we aren't omniscient, but also because nobody's perfect and the world is changing. While some organizations expect their managers to be omniscient and everyone on their staff to be perfect, they still don't live in a bubble: The world around them is still full of imperfection and is changing at a rapid pace.
Because of this, we can't plan for everything - and even if we did, the plan would still fail. And that's a problem.

A problem is no problem

Many people consider it a flaw to admit having a problem. Nothing could be further from the truth: Being keen in observing discrepancies between plans and how they work out indicates a good analytic capability. The biggest concern is that in a complex system, a problem in one area may require adjustments in another area. Only by communicating that there is need for adaption and why this need arises will the entire system remain stable.

No problem is a problem

Denial of problems or being completely oblivious about problems in the surroundings is a typical response by those who have been conditioned by their environment. Sentences like, "In our organization, there are no problems" are common in companies where the assumption is that "sufficiently intelligent people can plan and anticipate everything". Not only are both denial and obliviousness problems - an environment where openness and integrity are not valued is another problem.
Usually, an environment where nobody sees a problem is the most unhealthy, because needed change is often procrastinated until too late.

Talk about problems

You can improve the effectiveness of yourself, your work - and your organization with a few simple steps:
  1. Admit that problems exist. Call them what they are.
  2. Don't shoot the Messenger. People who name your problems are not your enemy, they want to help you improve.
  3. Live Continuous Improvement. Deal with problems before they grow out of proportion.

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