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3 Strategies for Creating a Problem-Solving Workforce

Posted by: Cheryl Jekiel | No Comments

Over the years, I’ve worked in many facilities that are devoted to team-based problem-solving.

Yet, as time has gone by, it has become clear that fully involving an entire workforce in problem-solving efforts is quite a challenge. Often, I’ve noticed that the visual displays of improvement look good at a glance, but upon looking closer, I see there are obvious shortfalls.

These displays remind me of the buildings in a western movie. The storefronts and saloons look real from the front, but they are typically being propped up with 2 x 4’s so they have the appearance of being real.

None of us want shallow problem-solving activity. Too often problem-solving looks sound, but upon closer examination, it’s clear that it’s only at the surface.

That’s why we need to give teams the tools and strategies they need to help them gain the real benefits of problem-solving: increased efficiency, increased team member engagement and more.

Following are examples of challenges that the 3 strategies for successful problem-solving will overcome:

Lack of broad participation in problem-solving. What percentage of your workforce is actively involved in regular problem-solving? Most employers answer that 10% or less is involved. That means 90% or more of your team is being underutilized.

Poor-quality problem-solving efforts. Problem-solving efforts can often be weak and not visible enough. When problem-solving is weak, the level of root cause analysis is not deep enough to get at causes that, if addressed, would truly prevent the problem.

Insufficient action planning. Many companies with considerable experience self-assess the quality of their action planning as ‘poor.’ Specifically, the details of action planning are often overly generalized and not detailed enough.

Other groups describe that the steps to sustain changes are often missing. For example, when looking at an action plan that states, “Train employees on new work process,” you’re left wondering what exactly that means and how to go about training.

Is the detail sufficient to support strong execution for who will be trained, how efforts will be tracked, what the training will involve and how you will measure success?

Successful changes aren’t sustained over time. Many organizations put time and energy into problem-solving, but 6 to 12 months later, the changes aren’t holding up even though they were good ideas. Changes without a strategy behind them, such as building change into standard work, linking to training instructions or building efforts into checklists, are often unsuccessful.

It’s clear that there are many barriers to effective problem-solving that creates sustainable change. Use these 3 strategies to overcome these barriers and turn your workforce into an efficient, problem-solving machine:


1. Ensure adequate training: This strategy isn’t about whether or not a person has been shown how to complete a skill. Training is the foundation that sets expectations for building skills. It provides the basis for coaching. In many companies, the amounts of training and effectiveness are not nearly adequate.

2. Provide sufficient coaching: This strategy requires that leaders at each level in the organization be prepared to coach their team. Oftentimes, there are missing levels of problem-solving capability in the leadership teams that create barriers to fully supporting team members. It’s critical that you have a strategy to ensure that higher-level leaders are capable of coaching their team and so on throughout each level of the organization.

3. Follow the art of self-evaluation. Self-evaluation points to areas in your problem-solving systems that need improvement. In my experience, organizations can typically spot when they aren’t doing problem-solving well. But that doesn’t mean they take the time to reflect and discuss potential changes that need to be made.

To get a problem-solving self-evaluation tool you can alter to make your own, click here. In the end, one important guiding principle is to have a regular mechanism to improve your improvement process.

What is your approach to fixing your problem-solving practices?

If any of these common shortfalls are present in your organization, strengthening your problem-solving efforts can provide many important benefits. Comment below and let me know what your problem-solving struggles are.

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