We are all familiar with and pretty much understand the old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This is especially true when it comes to taking care of our machines and equipment. We all have learned that doing regular, proper maintenance helps to avoid costly repairs and work stoppage. Yet, in spite of its profound implications, when it comes to addressing “people problems,” many of us fail to take action in the early stages. Instead we wait until a crisis forces action--action which is far more costly in time, money and stress to everyone affected.
When things go wrong at work, as they occasionally do, a common first reaction is to look for the culprit (s). This can lead to punishment which may result in the “evildoer (s)” being severely reprimanded, or even terminated. Unfortunately, not only does the problem often remain unsolved, the organization is left with another challenge of replacing a person or two. There may be a better way that doesn’t result in a lose-lose situation.
Dr. Joseph Juran,
Second, to be effective at identifying and solving the problem, someone has to serve as a facilitator. It's difficult to be both a facilitator and a participant. The role of facilitator is difficult, if not impossible, for the manager of a group. In the facilitator role, the person should neither evaluate nor contribute ideas. Since managers are charged with the task of evaluating employees and oversight of work processes, most find it very uncomfortable to move into a facilitating style within their own departments. The solution is to make the manager part of the problem solving team and bring in an outside facilitator-someone who has no direct stake in the outcome of the problem. The best people to help facilitate the process come from outside the group, maybe even outside the company. A facilitator has to be a neutral servant of the problem-solving group with 'no skin in the game' or 'dog in the fight.'
Third, in order to understand the problem and identify the best solution, a scientific approach is essential. This isn't 'rocket science'., but there are some good approaches that can help a group go through the proper stages before selecting the best course of action. In companies I am familiar with, managers are shown how to use a nine-step, problem-solving method. Based on the scientific methodology used by physical scientists, this process helps a group by giving it an organized approach. After discussion of the problem situation, the problem(s) is(are) identified and a formal problem statement is developed. This statement may be modified later after additional data are collected. The group goes through a process to separate causes from effects in order to concentrate efforts on the causal factors. Once the group is satisfied that it understands the problem and has adequate background information, alternatives are generated using various techniques. Once alternatives are generated, criteria that need to be satisfied are listed and discussed. Finally, the best solution(s) is(are) identified by using the criteria to aid the decision-making process. Once the optimum solution is identified, planning for implementation takes place. While this process can be longer than a less scientific approach, the resulting solutions are invariably better. And, a good facilitator can vary techniques to make the process both productive and enjoyable. By slowing down the tendency of a group to jump quickly from problem identification to brainstorming to implementation, the quality of work is greatly enhanced.