Rare is the business problem that gives managers plenty of advance warning, yet leaders still need to be proficient at handling unexpected issues. Consider the following scenario:
A plant manager and his personnel director are in the midst of a meeting when the mill supervisor suddenly interrupts. Offering no apologies, he blurts out that too much sulfur has been put into the meld, causing a considerable amount of raw product to be ruined. Coolly but affirmatively, the plant manager orders the mix scrapped and tells the superintendent they will get together to identify the source of the problem as soon as his directions are followed and a new meld is initiated.
Unexpected contingencies like the one described above affect the day-to-day lives of managers and executives in both small and large companies. Quick decisions must be made in order to keep production going and to minimize costly expenditures of man hours, machines and facilities. Human error, misjudgment, or ineffectual behavior related to such occurrences often arises—although it is seldom malicious in nature. How can leaders be better prepared for these unexpected issues?
Training and development
Without the assistance of training and development personnel, companies face an uphill battle. When confronted with unexpected problems, managers have no time to prepare training materials and manuals, set up classes, or implement other systematic responses. Therefore, a universal objective of all managers in any business should be to sharpen their problem-solving skills through training and development.
Problem-solving patterns within organizations tend to be inadequate when training and development resources are lacking. Some factors that inhibit development of workable solutions include the following:
- Subordinates refuse to criticize their immediate supervisors because they fear alienating themselves from good interpersonal rapport, favor or reward.
- People tend to be self-protective of their achieved positions and envisioned hopes for promotion within the system.
- The presence of personnel with considerable technical expertise in an area tends to intimidate those who may wish to question but who are afraid of admitting ignorance.
- The sense of urgency that always accompanies solution-seeking tends to stimulate individuals to make fast—and not always reliable—judgments.
- The dynamics of personality often create conflicts of an interpersonal nature that decrease constructive, cooperative problem solving.
- People perceive problems from their own frame of reference rather than adopting a more broad-based corporate perspective.
- The predisposition toward focusing on results clouds the atmosphere with search-and-destroy or find-the-villain strategies and proceedings.
Need for effective problem-solving models
Another problem is that many training and development programs don’t consider the need for quick responses to unforeseen obstacles. T&D personnel must create problem-solving models that will stimulate managers and executives to strategically involve the staff in resolving operational problems.
Prompt and responsive problem solving helps establish a viable energy resource within an organization. It requires commitment and cooperation by the training and development team, management, and the workforce. Such commitment tends to obliterate onerous line and staff differences, creating a healthier integration of the training and development function both vertically and horizontally throughout the organization.
Up Next Week… The Jury Technique Part 2: Structuring a Successful Problem-solving Method