Solving the Knotty Problems

6 March 2012

Some of the most complex, difficult problems an organization faces tend to take forever to solve. Why is that? A cynic might respond ‘Duh, because if they were simple they would be easy to solve’. True, but given their capacity to affect below-the-waterline hits on your company’s superstructure and bottomline, you would think you and your team could muster the courage and initiative to wrestle them into submission within a reasonable timeframe. Instead, they tend to get passed from manager to manager — especially if they are multi-faceted and require decisions by more than one functional head to solve — with no progress, month after month.

Here are some tips on accelerating Knotty Problem Resolution in your company:

1. Owner Wanted: Who ‘owns’ the problem, i.e., whom do you hold ultimately responsible for its solution? This is the ‘one throat to choke’ principle. Who has this on their workplan and will be rewarded/penalized for solving/not solving it? If you have no answer for this, then YOU are the owner, and that’s not good. Even if the problem requires weigh in and decisions from 4 other managers, choose one to be ultimately responsible.

2. Create a ‘Knotty Problem’ file in your desk drawer with the handful (hopefully its only a half dozen or less) of annoying issues that are bleeding your staff of time, energy and morale because the organization hasn’t solved them. Celebrate each time you can relegate one of these to the dustbin. Turn up the heat when one of them languishes there with no progress on it for more than a quarter.

3. Push it down. If your top team can’t figure out a way to get it down, go to the next tier down. Create and empower a working group comprised of middle managers and challenge them to find a solution WITHOUT interference from their bosses. If this works, you will have accomplished three things: solved the problem, identified potential future leaders, and boosted morale within the ranks.

Give it a shot. What have you got to lose?

Rupert Scofield


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