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Home arrow Management arrow Performance Management for Agile Organizations: Overthrowing The Eight Management Myths That Hold Businesses Back

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Problem-solving

Workplaces are intricate organisms with an assortment of multi-faceted problems, predicaments, and dilemmas needing solutions daily. Only a few decades ago, workplaces were slower, localized, and predictable. Being able to problem-solve is now part of the repertoire of the sought- after employee. Even though problem-solving is a core skill-set in a multifarious, transformational working world, the performance systems universally used haven’t kept pace with change.

The rigid, obstinate systemization of our workplaces daunts people to think freely. This regimentation began deliberately in the early twentieth century with the scientific management movement; it was popularized by the McDonald’s Corporations franchising regime. Against this backdrop, people are told constantly to show initiative at work, but are instead rewarded for being obedient. This paradox is understandably confusing. And most employees—given a choice between being enterprising and compliant—choose the latter. Justifiably, people—in their tightly controlled work environment—front up to work each day on autopilot; they leave their creative and enterprising self at home. People mindlessly follow protocol at work.

This scenario is pretty typical in the majority of unskilled and semiskilled work-settings in process-driven industries, such as hospitality and construction. Under a schedule of being told what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, workers have minimal leeway for exercising original thinking or thinking creativity. Independent thinking is frowned upon; it can even adversely affect one’s career prospects.

I’d like to share a personal experience that perfectly illustrates my point. I recall staying at a five star hotel a few months ago on a speaking tour throughout South-East Asia. Having just had one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten in one of the four restaurants in the hotel complex, I decided to approach the receptionist after leaving the restaurant and paying my bill. My wife is a magnificent cook; perhaps I should say, chef! At any rate, I wanted to get a copy of the recipe for this superb Thai dish I’d just had the pleasure of eating to take home for Carol.

The receptionist was positively beaming as I approached her in the hotel’s grand foyer. I said to her with a great deal of enthusiasm, “I’ve just had the most magnificent meal in your Thai restaurant and I was wondering if you could do me a favor please?” The receptionist smiling from ear-to-ear replied, “Yes Dr Baker, I would be happy to help you.” “Would it be possible for me to get a copy of the recipe for that meal, please?” I blurted out with a copy of the menu clutched in my hand.

The receptionist’s demeanor changed instantly and dramatically. Mild panic swept across her face; she went as white as a ghost! The smile vanished into thin air. The receptionist was undoubtedly thinking to herself at this point—what am I going to do? I could see that she wanted to dive under the reception desk and look for the procedures manual to tell her what to do in this particular situation. Of course this kind of request wouldn’t be documented anywhere. She had to think on her feet, literally. This is an example of a challenging problem that employees face regularly—mostly on the frontline—where there is no obvious solution. After much consultation with the boss, I received the recipe!

Many roadblocks prevent employees from displaying suitable initiative to solve these kinds of predicaments; ones they encounter frequently. Unfortunately, employees aren’t generally taught to problem-solve. So, when the employee is confronted by a unique situation that needs resolving, they tend to default to the stock standard answer in the procedures manual; assuming of course there is an answer! They understandably “play it safe.” “Sorry sir (or madam), I can’t help you. It is not within our scope,” is the archetypal inflexible response we’ve all been on the receiving end of. Problem-solving agility is conveniently avoided, despite its relevance.

 
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