I have a 16-year-old male child. (I call him “The Boy.”) He is a great kid, but like many teens, he needs parental guidance so he doesn’t eat seven bowls of cereal every morning or ride his hoverboard into traffic. I often ask The Boy, after he has engaged in some goofball activity, why he did what he did. I get the blank teenage stare that says I had no idea at the time, and now that I’m reflecting on it – nope, I still don’t have a clue. I’ve sort of already forgotten your question. Where’s the cereal? Many of you parents know that look.
I use these interactions to nurture his ability to think proactively – to consider his options before he acts and to pay attention to what matters. It’s fair to say I still have a lot of work to do. It doesn’t help that his frontal lobe – the rational part — won’t be fully developed until he is 25, but I digress. Without fail, a few times each week, I find myself asking The Boy, “Why did you do that?” He never knows.
Sounds ridiculous and kid-like, right? Maybe not! Even adults run into trouble with this. We don’t fully understand the situation before we act, and then we fail to solve the problem. Our work days are layered with examples of this hard truth. Every day, in the name of being agile (no shade), nimble, efficient, risk-taking, or entrepreneurial, we do a disservice to our teams and organization. We define a solution without responsibly considering the nature of the issue.
As a consultant who has worked with many organizations, I see it often. For example, when employees cannot execute, the solution must be training. A deeper look might tie the failure to things like incentives (I don’t get paid for that), culture (no one really does that), or lack of tools (I have to open seven windows to do that). Or how about an organization implementing great new technology? Suddenly, everything looks like a technical problem. Technology can solve it – let’s just add that new thing to our project.
So…do you know why you are doing what you are doing? I’ll list a few non-rocket-science tips to help you begin today.
Don’t start with the answer. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone, and no matter what you say – their response is hyper-focused on something that currently has their attention? “Suzie, my ankle is killing me. I think I hurt it playing softball last night.” Suzie’s response: “I have this new juicer, and it’s amazing. Juice has so many nutrients – I’m sure it will help your ankle heal faster. Because, you know…nutrition.” We do this often. We force tools, methodologies, and new ways of thinking down people’s throats because it’s the latest and greatest thing – or the company has invested in it — so it must be the answer.
Start with the problem. Before assuming you know what the solution is, ask yourself and your team a lot of questions. Where is your organization going? What does it need to get there? What obstacles are in your way? How do problems present themselves? Do they happen at a certain place or time? What is the magnitude of the problem to your business? Which employee behaviors seem to affect problems? How does your organizational culture influence those behaviors? Questions like these help you take those blinders off, assess the need holistically, and get to the root cause. Once you’re there, the right solution will be easier to find.
Focus on the solution. Sounds simple enough right? Well, there’s seldom a straight line between a problem and solution. Successful solutions require focused attention. Contrary to common belief, humans are not good multi-taskers – this is a myth passed along with very little push-back or common-sense reflection. Many studies demonstrate our failure at multi-tasking (e.g., texting and driving, or trying to pay off multiple debts at once). Focus is important. It sends all your brain power and energy toward what’s most important. It sounds simple, but with all the things competing for our attention today (inside and outside of the workplace), it’s difficult to execute. If you want to solve the problem, clear the decks and focus.
Much like my interactions with The Boy, I wanted to keep this advice simple. Think before you act. Don’t ride your corporate hoverboard into traffic by rushing to a solution. And definitely don’t do it while texting. Problem – Solution – Focus. No new methodology or tool beats this common-sense approach.