Building Effective Problem Solving and Decision Making Skills - EmployeeConnect HRIS
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Building Effective Problem Solving and Decision Making Skills

Building Effective Problem Solving and Decision Making Skills

The standard approach that people tend to follow especially when they are under the gun, feeling stressed is to usually react with a decision which had worked previously. While this may work, however, there is a high probability of you getting stuck in a circle of solving the same problem again and again. Hence, it is advisable to adopt an organised approach to solving problems and making sound decisions. All problems cannot be solved with a rational approach. This article attempts to provide a few basic guidelines which should help you get started once you have practised them a couple of time. Eventually, they will become your second nature and problem solving, and decision making will seem like cake walk to you!

Guidelines for Problem Solving and Decision Making


1. Try to identify and define the problem.

This is one of the areas where people seem to struggle because they usually react to what they think the problem may be. Instead of reacting impulsively, you should try and understand more as to why you think there is a problem in the first place. The best way to do this is to identify and define the problem by gathering inputs from others apart from your own opinion. Try asking the following questions to yourself and others:

  1. What makes you think that there is a problem?
  2. Where is the problem occurring usually?
  3. How is the problem occurring?
  4. When is the problem occurring?
  5. With whom is the problem occurring? (HINT: Avoid jumping to conclusions and avoid blame game)
  6. Why is the problem occurring?

If the problem seems to be complex, break it down by repeating the steps that have been listed until you have descriptions of several associated problems.

Verify that you understand the problem clearly and then prioritise the problems. If there are several associated problems, try prioritising the ones you think needs to be addressed first.

You should be able to distinguish between “important” and “urgent” problems. There are times when what we consider to be important issues to consider are actually urgent issues. Important problems need more attention than urgent problems at times.

Try to understand your role in the problem. For instance, when you are stressed out, it tends to appear to you that others are stressed as well. This leads to you quickly jumping into conclusions and blaming others.

2. Analyse the underlying causes for the problem

  • There will always be situations when you won’t have the entire knowledge about the problem. Hence, it is always crucial to get inputs from others who may be directly impacted by it.
  • While collecting inputs from other individuals ensure that you gather inputs from one individual at a time (at least initially). This is because people tend to be inhibited about sharing their inputs in public.
  • Write down what your view about what you have heard from others.
  • If there are problems pertaining to an employee’s performance, it is often useful to seek advice from a peer or your supervisor to gather a fair impression of the problem.
  • Write down a description of the cause of the problem and make a note of what is the problem, where is it occurring, when it is occurring, how it is occurring, with whom it is occurring and why it is occurring.


3. Brainstorm for solutions to resolve the problem

It is always advisable to keep others involved, as several thinking minds may be better than just one. Brainstorm with others seeking solutions to the problem. Collect as many ideas as possible, then screen them to find the best solution. It is important to remember that when you collect the ideas never pass any judgment on the ideas. You should just write them down as you hear them.

4. Select the best approach to resolve the problem

While selecting the best approach, you need to consider the following:

  • Which of these approaches is the most likely to resolve the problem effectively?
  • Which is the most realistic approach to accomplish for now?
  • Do you have the resources to adopt this approach?
  • Are the resources affordable?
  • Do you have enough time to execute the approach?
  • How much risk is associated with each alternative?


5. Decide your action plan

  1. You need to carefully consider what the final outcome will look like once this problem is resolved.
  2. What steps need to be taken in order to implement the best approach to resolving the problem? What systems or processes need to be changed in the organisation to implement this approach?
  3. How to keep a track if the steps pertaining to the selected approach are being followed or not? (This will indicate the success of your plan.)
  4. What type of resources (in terms of people, money and facilities) will you need to implement this approach?
  5. How much time will be required to implement the solution? Plan a schedule which includes the start and end dates.
  6. Who will be primarily responsible for ensuring the execution of the plan?
  7. Jot down the answers to the above questions and consider this to be your action plan.
  8. Communicate the plan to your team and to your immediate supervisor.


6. Monitor how your plan is being implemented

  1. Is the plan unfolding according to your expectations based on the indicators?
  2. Will the plan be accomplished as per the schedule?
  3. If the plan is not turning out to be as expected, then consider asking if it was a realistic plan. Analyse if there are sufficient resources to accomplish the plan on schedule. Furthermore, does more priority need to be placed on certain aspects of the plan? Should you consider changing the plan?


7. Verify if the problem has been resolved successfully or not

In order to verify if a problem has been solved or not, observe if normal operations have resumed in the organisation. While verifying, you need to consider the following:

  1. What changes need to be incorporated to avoid this type of problem in future? Consider making changes to policies or procedures, introducing training, etc.
  2. Consider the lessons learnt from this particular problem.
  3. Prepare a brief memo that highlights the success of the problem-solving effort, and the learning. Share it with your peers, supervisor, and subordinates.


Which is a better approach? Rational Versus Organic Approach

Rational Approach

In a rational approach, an individual prefers to adopt a comprehensive and logical approach as explained in the above section. A rational approach involves the following:

  1. Defining the problem.
  2. Examining all potential causes of the problem.
  3. Identifying all alternatives to resolving the problem.
  4. Selecting an alternative carefully.
  5. Developing an orderly implementation of the action plan to implement that best approach.
  6. Monitoring the implementation of the plan closely.
  7. Verifying if the problem has been successfully resolved or not.

One of the major advantages of the rational approach is that it establishes a strong sense of order in a chaotic situation and provides a common point of reference for similar situations in future. One of the major disadvantages of this approach is that it takes longer to accomplish.

Organic Approach

Some people believe that the organisational dynamics and people are not so ordered that a particular problem can be resolved by addressing one problem after another. They are of the opinion that the quality of an organisation is rated on how one handles things while on the road itself, instead of handling issues after arriving at the destination.

One of the major advantages of the organic approach is that it is highly adaptable to comprehend and explain the disordered changes that occur in projects in day to day life. One of the major disadvantages of this approach is that it often provides no clear frame of reference for people to communicate. Measuring the progress of this approach is also a challenging issue in itself.

Byron Conway

Content Coordinator at EmployeeConnect