It’s not necessarily true that people are an organization's greatest assets. If that were true, the organization with the biggest head count would automatically win.
Your real assets are people who know how to solve problems… and solve them better than your competitors!
When you think about it, practically every business issue is a problem to be solved. It can be about hiring talent, increasing sales, maximizing cash flow, reducing defects, or leading innovation.
Usually, the problem-solver is the executive, the manager, the technology supplier, or the consultant.
But what if everyone in that organization pitches in?
What if the machine operator, the lobby receptionist, or the accounting clerk can see the problem with fresh eyes and offer solutions that no one has thought of before? Instead of people doing the same old thing or, worse, saying something can’t be done, they are saying
“We can do it. Here’s how…”
Early when I took over my first plant, I had this maintenance technician who came to me and said, “Sir Nelson, we have a problem in Machine X”. Then he described the problem, paused, and waited for me to give him the answer from Mount Sinai.
Instead, I replied, “So?”
I think he was a bit taken aback. As he kept on explaining, I kept pushing back with “So?” At some point, he ran out of words about the problem and began drifting to solutions. “Maybe, Sir, we should try out…”
I asked him, “That’s a good idea. What else can we do?” As the technician expressed his ideas, I kept encouraging him with “What else?” until I am satisfied. Finally, I patted him on the shoulder and said, “Good! Go ahead!”
After that first encounter, whenever that technician came to me with a problem, he also brought along recommendations.
Guess what? Five years later, he has been promoted to Production Head. When an operator went to him with a technical problem, he replied “So what do you think can be done?”
Hmmm… sounds familiar.
If I were to solve every problem at the plant, I would quickly burn out. And that’s assuming I have all the answers! But you don’t need to have all the answers. You need to know where to find the best answers.
I believe that most people have great ideas just waiting to come out. Therefore, an often overlooked role of the leader is to help his followers come up with solutions better than his.
Within an industry, it is likely that the players make commodity products, have access to roughly the same technology, and beat each other on price and promotions. If you are one of those players, you will want to be different, innovative, or cost-efficient. In today’s red-ocean environment, a can-do workforce is your true competitive advantage.
In the end, it’s about having people to solve problems, rather than solving them all by yourself. Now that’s a solution worth pursuing!
Note: This article is excerpted from my signature module Creating a Problem-Solving Culture, which seeks to empower both leaders and followers tap their reservoir of creativity and wisdom. For queries, please feel free to message me.
Photo by Olav Ahrens Røtne on Unsplash
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