vPsychology for Business


We are dedicated to bringing out the best in you and your employees

Volume 5, Number 10                                                            May 7, 2004


Psychology for Business is an e-mail newsletter written by  Dr. John Weaver, business psychologist and independent consultant, provided to you at no charge. It is published bi-weekly. You’ve received this newsletter because you’ve subscribed to it or it was forwarded to you by a friend or colleague. To subscribe sign up at our website, http://www.psychologyforbusiness.com/. If you wish to cancel your subscription, please see the end of this e-mail for easy instructions

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Solving Problems

by Dr. John Weaver, Business Psychologist and Executive Coach

One of the critical tools for successful business involves the ability to solve problems. I find myself frequently frustrated as I observe executives reacting to crisis after crisis without taking the time to identify and resolve the issues that are the real sources of the problems. 

Business today is faced with a dilemma. Do you treat the symptoms of the crisis, soothing the immediate trouble? This is less time consuming and it allows the flow of the business to continue. It also may leave the organization vulnerable to other, potentially more serious problems later on. Or do you address the causes of the crisis and work to fully resolve the issues that disturb the health of the company? This takes much more time and often requires the expertise of someone who can diagnose the organization and make practical recommendations for change. More complete resolution creates a more healthy business that is better positioned to deal with a competitive marketplace over the long term.

There are assumptions that interfere with this more in-depth approach to organizational health. The “lean and mean” style of doing business that has developed in the past two decades often results in intense pressure to be constantly producing. Within this context, it can be difficult to work “on” the business because there is too much to do “in” the business. This environment fosters alleviation of symptoms without taking the time to understand or address deeper causes. The business climate has also put a premium on “appearance” over substance. When appearances are most highly valued, there is a tendency to maintain the façade even when the underlying reality is quite different. 

These assumptions drive unreflective action toward constant busy-ness without taking pause to look deeper. Problem solving requires a conscious decision.

Effective problem solving strategies can be learned and employed successfully but it takes time to work through the process. The savings in the long term are more difficult to see. Still, it takes far more time to react to the “crisis du jour” in ineffective ways that often create even more problems. 

Steps toward solving a problem: 

1)      Define the problem. A vague understanding of a problem will inevitably lead to a poor solution. The crisis that spurs a reaction is often only one symptom of a larger issue or group of issues that need to be addressed. Experts at solving problems will spend as much as half of their time and effort on the diagnosis before making any efforts to identify actions. A combination of involvement by a team of individuals from the areas most intimately affected by the problem (no one knows your problems better than you) and someone who can look freshly at the situation (a professional who is trained in system dynamics) is often necessary to fully define the issues facing the organization.

2)      Brainstorm ideas. Some simple problems have easy and immediate solutions. This is actually uncommon. More often the solution to a problem will require some creative thinking to elicit potentially helpful actions. Brainstorming works because it stretches the possible solutions beyond the normal limits. “We never did it that way before” is a comment that will doom attempts to truly resolve difficult problems. I usually recommend that during this process, every idea (no matter how wild) be recorded. Every idea is accepted without evaluation during the brainstorming phase of the process. When you cannot think of any more ideas, you only need to think of three more! It is often when you push past your self imposed limits that truly innovative ideas emerge. Brainstorming is a process that is familiar to many individuals.

3)      Evaluate each idea for practical implementation. The evaluation phase of this planning phase is separate from the brainstorming phase. This is by design. During brainstorming, every idea is accepted because one idea often leads to another and another. Working plans often arise from unusual ideas. To evaluate an idea, I recommend asking the question “Would I be willing to try this?” rather than “Is this the right or the wrong idea?” Preconceived notions of what is right vs. wrong can be limiting.

4)      Identify the actions necessary to implement the idea and the responsibilities of each actor. Once an idea is acceptable (it is something you would be willing to try) it is necessary to think through the components of the idea. What will the action entail? How much will it cost? What other aspects of the company will be affected if we implement this idea? Who will be responsible for the various actions involved?

5)      Evaluate and adjust. The problem is not solved until you take time to see if your solution is having the effects you intended. What is working about your solution? What does not work? Can adjustments be made to make things work better? Do you need to start over with a different idea?

This process, done carefully, will deepen your understanding of your organization and the actions that are necessary to achieve success.

Did you know that executive coaching is not geographically limited?  Coaching by telephone is effective.  It is also an efficient use of time and resources.  You never need to leave your office to travel, nor do you need to pay travel expenses for your coach. We offer coaching either onsite or by telephone. To find out if coaching is right for you, contact us to schedule a 1/2 hour consultation at no charge.  Or request a price sheet to determine the best value for your organization.  Call us at: (262) 789-2728 or email us at mailto:jweaver@psychologyforbusiness.com.

About the Author

John Weaver, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist with 25 years’ professional experience working with organizations, groups, and individuals. He has experience leading groups and creating teamwork in organizations. His areas of expertise include executive coaching, conflict resolution, coaching teams and individuals to improve performance under stress, assessing employees and potential employees to ensure the right person for the right job, and training in stress management and "The Vitamin C’s for an Emotionally Healthy Workplace."  He is an experienced professional speaker and published author.

Based in Waukesha, WI, Dr. John Weaver is available for consultation or executive coaching by phone, e-mail or in person. He may be reached at (262) 789-2728 (office) or (414) 491-8719 (cell), by e-mail: mailto:jweaver@psychologyforbusiness.com or: 

John Weaver, Psy.D. 
Psychology for Business
2717 North Grandview Boulevard, Suite 303
Waukesha, Wisconsin, 53188

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Psychology for Business
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Waukesha, WI 53188

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