Thursday, March 8, 2012

No Problem is a Problem

By Al Norval

This is a phrase I often use. I like it since it has a couple of meanings and makes people think. The obvious meaning is that our problem solving process is so good that it can handle any problem so “No problem is a problem” for us to solve.

But it has another deeper meaning goes back to one of our core mental models:

    Problems are garbage to be hidden away

    Vs.

    Problems are buried treasure

In many organizations, problems aren’t something to be brought to the light of day much less brought up in front of leaders. In these organizations, leaders often say “Don’t bring me problems, I want answers”. And of course, people learn not to bring problems to the boss and if they can’t resolve the problem by themselves, they just bury them and move on. Often they are forced to work around the problem and keep going. Over time these workarounds become the standard way we run the process and get baked into our standardized work.

"Elephant in the Room" by Banksy from his 2006 art exhibit "Barely Legal",
a playful exploration of the extremes some will go to when attempting to hide problems.

What amazes me is that for all this fuss, the problems still exist. Imagine this environment – what kind of continuous improvement is going on? What kind of reaction would occur if a customer complained?

What’s the alternative?
Leaders need to create an environment where it’s OK to surface problems or better yet, create an environment where people are encouraged to surface problems.

How do leaders do this?
First of all by thinking about how they react when people bring problems to them. Leaders have to choose how they react when people bring them problems. Do they coach, mentor, offer help and encouragement? Problems always provide us with a teachable moment where we can follow through on another one of our Mental Models - Leader as a Teacher, and by doing so build the capability of both the people and the organization.

After that Leaders need to reflect on the strength of their problem solving process:
    Do we have a process through which problems are raised?
    Do we have a rapid response to problems?
    Do we have containment of problems?
    Do we get to root cause of problems?
    Do we put in countermeasures that sustain over time so problems don’t reappear?
All organizations have problems; to have problems is normal and natural. Why would we be any different? And why would we behave as though we don’t have any?

No problem is indeed a big problem!

Cheers

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