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Forget Shortcuts: Coach the Longcut Approach to Problem Solving

Posted by Chester, Eric at Monday, 12/17/2012 2:00 pm
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In this new economy, time is the commodity that is the most prized. Seldom do you run into a colleague or associate who has a wide-open schedule or is looking for a way to fill some empty or idle time in their day.

Forced to do more with less, time-crunched leaders push their people to find the fast-n-easy solution when they encounter a problem such as an equipment breakdown or a customer service complaint. But the quick fix is seldom the right fix, and the Band-Aid approach to problem solving only lasts as long as the adhesive on the back.

When shortcut solutions become acceptable, employees are programmed to believe that speed trumps quality and cutting corners is the way to get on to the next thing. Even when luck plays its hand and the quick fix remedy is good enough, workers begin to exhibit a shortcut mentality. And that can prove hazardous to your organization.

Yes, speed matters. You don’t want the mechanic to take three weeks to complete a brake job on your car. But you don’t want him to finish it in three minutes, either. There’s a monumental difference between working efficiently and expeditiously and doing a rush job.

To establish a workplace culture where your people are driven to find the right solution in a timely manner, follow these three simple rules:

1. Be outcome driven. As Stephen Covey so brilliantly stated as the 2nd of his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “begin with the end in mind.” Your people should know where speed fits in to your organization’s values and what the ultimate objective must be in their daily decision making process. If you demand quality above all else, let them know that in most all situations, good enough is not good enough when better is possible.

2. Follow up. As you delegate, make sure you consistently circle back to see how problems were solved. Look for teachable moments in both the good and bad situations and rather than give the lesson, ask workers what they’ve discovered through the experience.

3. Reward the process. When your people go out of their way to find and apply creative problem solving techniques, draw attention to it and give appropriate recognition, regardless of whether it led to a successful result. Let your people know that you appreciate their investing themselves in finding the best solutions for the challenges that your organization faces.

In 1776, Lord Chesterfield famously quipped “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” My dad, W. Grant Chester (who I thought of as a Lord and was often standing in a field next to a well), used to say, “For Pete’s sake, son, don’t do a half-ass job or it’s going to reflect poorly on you and it will most likely need to be done again!”

Both quotes are as applicable today as they were when they were said. So if you’re tired of seeing the same old problems rear their ugly heads and you’re after sustainable results, coach long-term problem solving strategies.

Leave the short-term remedies and quick fixes to your competitors.

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