When you’re faced with a problem in day-to-day business life, what is your strategy for getting it resolved? All too often, business professionals make problems more difficult by jumping to conclusions and implementing “solutions” before the problem is fully understood. Whenever possible, we should take a step back to get a better perspective.
Let’s suppose the problem is an underperforming sales team. The first step is to imagine success. What would things look like if the problem didn’t exist? In this case, achieving success would mean increased sales from a successful sales team. By focusing on what success looks like, it becomes possible to see paths to a solution. But this involves thinking differently and creatively.
Once you have identified what the desired or ideal situation looks like, make a list of the success factors that would make the desired situation possible. Think of a success factor as an element that is key to success. If the desired situation is increased sales, a success factor might be a better-trained sales team. It’s important to identify success factors as specifically as possible. You should avoid general factors, especially those you have little chance of impacting, such as “a good economy” or “excellent weather.”
Once you have listed the success factors, it’s time to identify the barriers to each success factor. A barrier is anything that prevents the success factor from happening. In the previous example, one barrier might be that salespeople travel a lot, or are too busy. It’s better to describe a barrier as something present and blocking success rather than something absent or unavailable. For example, it’s better to write “salespeople are busy,” rather than “they have no time.”
After you have completed a list of barriers corresponding to each success factor, the next step is to ask three key questions that will help you identify the barriers that can be feasibly removed. Ask yourself:
- Are there any common barriers among the various success factors?
- Which barriers are most easily removed?
- Which of these barriers, if removed, are likely to have the greatest impact on the problem?
The advantage to this thought process is that it promotes a positive approach to problem analysis by emphasizing the existing potential for success. The simple question, “What one thing most stands in the way of our success?” will often cause people to stop and think about barriers that can be removed, instead of immediately jumping to solutions that may or may not work.