There are many times in our business lives when we find that we don’t know what to do. And that’s OK because it is impossible to know everything, and you probably shouldn’t try… However you really should know what steps to take when the situation occurs.
When you’re stuck in a situation, and you don’t know what to do, there are six crucial steps you should take to work your way through the problem and come out ahead.
Step One: Breathe
Stop what you are doing, take a deep breath and take a few minutes to focus on the problem. Every day we have to keep multiple balls in the air, deal with several things at once, well you have to stop… now… and focus.
Step Two: Identify the Problem
What is it exactly that you don’t know? This seems obvious but sometimes it’s not. Problems are not infrequently problems, but symptoms of something else. Familiarity or proximity can sometimes make it hard to appreciate the depth or scope of a problem.
What is it exactly that you don’t know? This seems obvious but sometimes it’s not
As an example, a client complained that her staff was not cooperating and team work was poor. Practice indicators and staff questionnaires supported this view. On closer examination there were three issues causing unhappiness: a bad front counter; poor job definition; and a long-standing dispute that had been avoided by all.
If you can’t figure out what you don’t know but there is clearly a problem, or if you feel unsure, call for help. Someone needs to put a frame around the issue and show you the way forward.
Step Three: Make a Plan
So now we know what the problem is and we need a plan to fix it. Fundamentally you are looking at a knowledge gap. How can we fill it? If the practice fridge is broken I don’t recommend reading a manual and poking around with a screwdriver. You might die. Get an expert to fix it. If your reception staff is fighting perhaps the worst outcome is they will join forces and hate you. Maybe that’s more risky than fixing the fridge? Your call. But just then I used the “R” word. RISK. This is important for business decisions and almost every decision you make carries risk (see Figure 1. The Risk Scale).
Most business decisions are made somewhere on this scale. The challenge is to move towards certainty, at least to a point where you are pretty certain nothing terrible will happen.
To mitigate risk you need information or knowledge. You can read a book, browse the internet, do a course, share the problem with your team or colleagues, or call in outside help.
Step Four: Implement It
Decide what you will do, do it properly and with purpose. If the problem is manageable with one solution you can get on and sort it out. This is not so common though. Quite often there is more than one action required to solve a problem, and complex problems can have subsets and staged solutions. If your practice is slowly dying in front of you, there will be many activities to fix it and you need a plan. Write it down and stick to it.
Most problems require resources to fix them in the form of time, materials, money and/or equipment. You might also need to schedule when things need to happen. Timing can be very important.
You will almost always need to talk to others about it and get their cooperation and help. We are in the “people” business and if they are not the cause they are certain to be part of the solution. Having the problem and solution written down can help here.
In our earlier example we needed to get a few things straight. A promise to change the reception desk when budget allowed made a difference. Job descriptions helped everyone understand expectations and cleared up any confusion about roles; and performance appraisals helped staff understand where they were at. A ten minute discussion sorted out the personal issues, backed by a friendly reminder about acceptable behaviour. A five minute meeting every morning keeps everyone focussed and on track.
Remember that implementation is the Achilles Heel of strategy. Practices or companies that are always successful are very good at implementation.
Step Five: Review
Measure and review the results of your efforts. Have we actually improved the problem and by how much? The practice in our example has improved substantially in key performance areas. Sales are up and it’s a nicer place to work.
Step Six: Reflect and Build
Reflect and build on what you have learned from the process. Add the knowledge gained to your pool of intellectual property and make sure we don’t have to repeat this process in the future.
If you did really well, have a little party, do a small victory dance. Mark the occasion with acknowledgements and rewards. Reward yourself!
Mark Overton Bsc MBA, is the Managing Director of Ideology Consulting. Mark has extensive experience in general management, consulting and professional service roles. He has consulted to over 400 organisations across Australia including optometry practices, public hospitals, Federal Government medical research institutions and professional associations. He has also lectured at universities.