Problem or solution?

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I used to work on an executive team that invariably divided into two camps whenever there was an issue in the stores.

One group always believed that the store staff was the problem. Whether it was how they received product, used the POS, or worked with customers, this group always went immediately to “the staff is doing something wrong.”

The other group almost always believed that the process was the problem. There was something wrong with the way we asked the stores to receive product, ring sales, or work with customers.

I look back now and see that we wasted way too much time and energy debating the problem, instead of focusing on the solution. I’m sure we believed that the conversation was leading us to a solution, but in reality it kept us stuck in the problem.

From time to time I see the same thing happen in companies with whom I consult. Here are a few tips to keep from spending too much time on a problem, instead of the solution.

1. Focus on facts, not feelings. Solutions come from what from what we learn and know, not what we think or feel. When you work with facts, the problem is rarely as big as it might seem when feelings and emotions get in the way.

For example, say employees are only allowed to use black pens. If 5% of your stores are using a red pen, it’s probably a people problem. If personnel in 50% of your stores are using a red pen, you probably have a process problem. At the very least, the staff doesn’t know or understand the expectations.

2. Get agreement on the problem. Our group used to debate different problems without even realizing what we were doing. That is, until one person would stop everyone and ask, “What problem are we trying to solve?” You’ll be amazed how this simple question accelerates problem solving.

3. Get involvement from those the problem is impacting. Including frontline employees in a call or meeting brings a perspective others don’t have. Using the red pen example, I might include a store from both the red and black pen groups.

4. Focus your time and conversation on the future solution. Why do you care what people or departments are to blame for the problem? The problem needs to be solved so the organization or store can move forward.

Returning to our pen example, the goal should be to have 100% of stores using black pens by May 1. What steps must the team take in order to do that? Do stores need to be told to destroy the red pens? Is it a change to the order form? Does there need to be a memo or training sent out?

5. Scale your solution to the problem. If one person, or just a handful of stores, is the problem, address that one person or handful of stores. If the majority of the staff or stores are having a problem, then provide a store or company-wide solution. But don’t keep addressing or training stores who are doing things right just because another group isn’t.

The above can work at all levels of the company. It’s also a great way to identify solutions to slow traffic, improve ADS, or anything else you want to move from issue or problem to solution.

So let me ask, how well are you and your team driving solutions?

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Republished with author's permission from original post.

Doug Fleener
As the former director of retail for Bose Corporation and an independent retailer himself, Doug has the unique experience and ability to help companies of all sizes. Doug is a retail and customer experience consultant, keynote speaker and a recognized expert worldwide.

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