How To Develop Good Solutions That Lead To Stellar Results
The average employee today has succeeded by embracing change. But most people do resist bad change, and in business there is a lot of bad change. Good change does not meet resistance. What you need is a carefully designed process that engages the talent you have. Here are a few ways to develop good solutions that lead to good change:
Ask the People Closest to the Work for Their Ideas. Your employees are an extraordinarily rich source of solutions. Invite those closest to the work and closest to the customer to specific problem-solving sessions with experts.
Get Out of Your Office and Go See for Yourself. Actually watch how the work gets done, or, even better, do some of it firsthand. Ask “why” a lot as you watch and work. Actively look for sources of wasted time and effort.
Stop Ignoring Your Introverts. Businesses nurture and reward extroverts without realizing that it is the introverts who are often critical to the problem solving that drives innovation, productivity and profits. Here are three practical steps to help nurture your introverts: 1) Solicit more input privately. 2) Train managers to use better meeting protocols. 3) Assign introverts to lead special project teams.
Turn Complaints into Collaboration: Interdepartmental Job Swap. Go to a unit that uses what you produce or a unit that produces something that you use. Ask the managers if they will swap one of your people for one of theirs for a few days or a few weeks. Then share observations.
Other People Have Great Ideas. Ask new hires to point out things your area is doing that other companies seem to do better. Arrange brown-bag lunches, conference calls or one-on-one interviews. Vendors know your company, they know your industry, and they see what other companies like yours are doing. They also want to make you happy. Ask them nicely, and they can tell you lots of places where they see waste masquerading as work.
Does Your Customers’ Journey Take Them on a Road Full of Potholes? Imagine being a customer. Now list every interaction you have, from becoming aware of the company, to making a purchase, to using the product, to paying the bill, to making another purchase. Write down three pieces of information for each item on the list:
- Which departments directly or indirectly affect how that item is carried out?
- How painful is the step for the customer?
- How important is the step to the customer’s buying decision?
The Unintentional Squelch. Here is one power that never goes away: the power to kill ideas. The only sure-fire response from a manager who wants an idea to move forward is to say,“I want you to analyze this idea and get back to me on [ fill in date] with a progress report.”Then that follow-up must be scheduled.
Stop Brainstorming to Find New Ideas That Move the Profit Needle. Brainstorming is great for finding problems but not for solving them. Engage from three to seven experts who follow a well-structured meeting guide to focus very specifically on developing a few good ideas to solve a specific problem.
Making Problems Harder Can Make Finding Solutions Easier. “Think outside the box” and “draw outside the lines” actually inhibit creativity and innovation. Give the brain restrictions, and it will do a better job finding solutions. It is much easier to come up with realistic, practical solutions to a narrow problem than a broad one.
Use a Checklist. Use this checklist to follow the right order to find good solutions. Start at the top.
- Eliminate work
- Simplify processes
- Match task to skill
Turn the checklist into a corporate mantra.
Actually...Just Don’t Do It. “Zombie projects” that should be killed but live on use up valuable time, while the better projects are delayed. Institute a regular “sunset” review that poses the question, “With what we know today, will we make more money by stopping this project rather than by completing it, so we can use the time and money on a better one?”
Give People What They Need, Not What They Want. When people higher up the food chain ask you for a special report, a new analysis or some other time waster, do you roll your eyes? You might be able to suggest alternatives that are not only easier for you but also more helpful to them. When asked for help, make sure you understand what problem needs to be solved.
Simplify. Steve Jobs offered a vastly simpler product line than his competitors and offered far simpler products. Systematically identify the biggest causes of complexity in your business. Then simplify your process, products or services by eliminating as much complexity as you can.
Push Work Down to the Lowest-Paid Person Capable of Doing It. Right now, there are highly skilled people in your company who are doing low-skill tasks as part of their job. Ask your team to list the tasks they do that they think someone junior (and less expensive!) could do just as well. Reassign the tasks down to the junior people, and free up time of the more senior people. Now the hard part: Either find a way to use the freed-up time to actually add hard dollars to the bottom line, or eliminate some of those senior positions.
Take Simple and Low Tech Over Sexy and High Tech. “Think outside the box” is supposed to be the secret of innovation. But thinking outside the box often leads to unnecessary risk taking. That is why we say, “Think inside the box.”
Go No Tech Over Low Tech. Before asking for or approving new technology (even low tech), ask yourself how much of your goal you could achieve without any technology by changing a policy, adding low-cost head count, redesigning your product or service, reorganizing or eliminating the work, learning that customers don’t value the higher quality that you would get from new technology.
Borrow Good Ideas. Take facts you already know, and figure out how to combine them in new ways or apply them to new problems.
Force People to Get Help. Some managers just “don’t know what they don’t know.” Some know they need help but fear asking. Others think there is no bud- get for help. Is there a problem that has been festering in your company for months or years? Are your managers or your continuous improvement department getting the job done? If not, they probably need help.