The Jury Technique, Part 2 – Structuring a Successful Problem-solving Method

By: Dr. Donald Devine, May 23, 2014

In last week’s post, we discussed the importance of business leaders committing resources to training and development for quick action problem-solving. We explored the idea that all managers should be able to respond in a timely and reliable manner when problems arise, whether the issue is anticipated or is the result of unforeseeable occurrences.

But how do you teach problem solving? How do you learn it?

Principles of problem solving

First, training and development personnel must be involved in the decision-making process even if they lack specific technical expertise on the subject. Key personnel should design problem-solving learning experiences that will help teach managers how to quickly assess and describe issues using crisp, clear verbiage. They also need to develop courses of action that will encourage commitment and allow leaders to act out proposed solutions.

To be successful, problem solving must emphasize rationality. Certain basic assumptions are helpful in bringing about strong and lasting results, not only from the practical standpoint of achieving work efficiency and effectiveness, but also in terms of the quality of human relationships.


Below are some things to keep in mind when setting up problem-solving structures within your organization:

  • Problems, when initially stated, are usually inaccurate because people have a tendency to start by describing situations or symptoms. Total effort must be made to correctly and carefully state the objective that needs to be accomplished.
  • Inquiry is an indispensable tool in problem identification. Each person must feel free to question in an atmosphere that is free of implicit reprisal. Every employee should have an opportunity to openly express what he or she knows about a problem, to feel comfortable being questioned, to be able to respond fully to questions, and to ask questions themselves.
  • Those who are involved in or affected by a problem should be invited to participate in its resolution.
  • To encourage self-actualization as well as spontaneous and uncontrived participant responses when examining a problem, you must ensure that a spirit of friendship, courtesy and ethical behavior prevails.
  • Recognize that each participant is equally important to the solution. Whether the problem affects certain employees to a greater or lesser degree is singularly unimportant.

Up Next Week… The Jury Technique Part 3: Implementing the Technique

The Jury Technique, Part 1- Will the Real Problem Please Stand Up?

By: Dr. Donald Devine, May 16, 2014

Rare is the business problem that gives managers plenty of advance warning, yet leaders still need to be proficient at handling unexpected issues. Consider the following scenario:

A plant manager and his personnel director are in the midst of a meeting when the mill supervisor suddenly interrupts. Offering no apologies, he blurts out that too much sulfur has been put into the meld, causing a considerable amount of raw product to be ruined. Coolly but affirmatively, the plant manager orders the mix scrapped and tells the superintendent they will get together to identify the source of the problem as soon as his directions are followed and a new meld is initiated.

Unexpected contingencies like the one described above affect the day-to-day lives of managers and executives in both small and large companies. Quick decisions must be made in order to keep production going and to minimize costly expenditures of man hours, machines and facilities. Human error, misjudgment, or ineffectual behavior related to such occurrences often arises—although it is seldom malicious in nature. How can leaders be better prepared for these unexpected issues?


Training and development

Without the assistance of training and development personnel, companies face an uphill battle. When confronted with unexpected problems, managers have no time to prepare training materials and manuals, set up classes, or implement other systematic responses. Therefore, a universal objective of all managers in any business should be to sharpen their problem-solving skills through training and development.

Problem-solving patterns within organizations tend to be inadequate when training and development resources are lacking. Some factors that inhibit development of workable solutions include the following:

  • Subordinates refuse to criticize their immediate supervisors because they fear alienating themselves from good interpersonal rapport, favor or reward.
  • People tend to be self-protective of their achieved positions and envisioned hopes for promotion within the system.
  • The presence of personnel with considerable technical expertise in an area tends to intimidate those who may wish to question but who are afraid of admitting ignorance.
  • The sense of urgency that always accompanies solution-seeking tends to stimulate individuals to make fast—and not always reliable—judgments.
  • The dynamics of personality often create conflicts of an interpersonal nature that decrease constructive, cooperative problem solving.
  • People perceive problems from their own frame of reference rather than adopting a more broad-based corporate perspective.
  • The predisposition toward focusing on results clouds the atmosphere with search-and-destroy or find-the-villain strategies and proceedings.

Need for effective problem-solving models

Another problem is that many training and development programs don’t consider the need for quick responses to unforeseen obstacles. T&D personnel must create problem-solving models that will stimulate managers and executives to strategically involve the staff in resolving operational problems.

Prompt and responsive problem solving helps establish a viable energy resource within an organization. It requires commitment and cooperation by the training and development team, management, and the workforce. Such commitment tends to obliterate onerous line and staff differences, creating a healthier integration of the training and development function both vertically and horizontally throughout the organization.

Up Next Week… The Jury Technique Part 2: Structuring a Successful Problem-solving Method

Keeping a Simple Eye on a Complex World

By: Lynée Miller, May 8, 2014

Life can be messy, but the truth is, we frequently make it harder than it needs to be. We complicate our own lives rather than simplifying them. Even high-tech companies thrive on simple rules of thumb instead of complicated frameworks. By becoming aware of what your personal obstacles are, you will be able to distinguish between what is complex and what is complicated.

In our busy lives, we rush around constantly striving for more: better possessions, bigger bragging rights, additional recognition… all in the name of “success.” The small amount of time we spend playing is overshadowed by the many hours we spend working. As a result, instability, instead of balance, becomes the norm.

Below are a few ways to practice living a simple, productive and authentically balanced life:

  • Calm your sea – Anything is doable when you break it down into small steps. Looking too far ahead may overwhelm you, but taking one thing at a time allows you to create value in your outcomes.
  • Sift through your sand – Even a rampant mind needs to unplug for an hour or so per day. Spend that time sifting through or distilling the complexities that are cluttering your psyche.
  • Nurture your palm tree – Listen to your innermost needs. Remember the simple things that bring you joy and let go of stress-inducing activities. We should be fully present and intimately engaged in everything we do.
  • Realize your winds – Be mindful of promoting balance. Don’t sweat the small things—or the big things! Just try to be mindful of them.
  • Shine your light with brilliance – Live deliberately. Living only on the surface will cause you to be barely aware of what is surrounding you and inside you.

Somewhere in the midst of all our self-imposed complexity lies our best simple life. By searching for clarity in what we wish to obtain in life, both in business and personal arenas, can help reduce the overwhelming feelings that end up draining our energy.

Take a lesson from the world we inhabit—nature is very complex, but its rules are very simple

Creating a Capability Ready Culture

By: Pamela Walters, May 1, 2014

Most business executives focus their leadership efforts on the strategic side of growth, including market expansion, brand credibility, and contract negotiation. But many are overlooking some very important pieces of the growth puzzle—their people.

Successful business transformation requires several things: new processes, leaders with the ability to direct others, and a ready-to-play “bench” of capable professionals. During a season of transformational change, it is critical to have skilled people on board who can work synergistically to fulfill the vision and goals of your company.

Populating the bench

Planning for growth requires identifying talent that will be ready to shoulder more responsibility and propel others through the upcoming changes. Leaders must keenly observe their employees, conduct disciplined evaluations, and be able to envision the future potential of an individual. They must be tuned-in to identifying character traits such as dependability, resilience and work ethic. Then, assumptions must be tested so that evaluations are fair.

Evolving into a capability-minded culture that demonstrates flexibility to change often involves sophisticated diagnostic tools and processes. Beyond that, leaders can contribute to this objective by having a capability-ready mindset. These fundamental steps will get you started:

  • Identify sources of measurement, such as assessments or skills tests, that can gauge capability in the context of a specific job, the current culture, and the future work environment. Look for underutilized skills that can be leveraged for future assignments. For example, a manager’s problem-solving capability can evolve from moderate to complex if he is given enough experience and coaching.
  • Call out specific behaviors that you notice in your employees, such as business acumen, the ability to collaborate with others, or courage in the face of great risk. Recognizing these attributes creates focus for the individual. If they know which strengths are valued, they will be more open to being coached in underperforming areas as well.
  • Provide employees with clear and compelling feedback, whether it is corrective or affirmative. Statements should reference attributes that you’ve noticed and show how they were applied.
  • Help individuals link their current roles to the company’s future mission and vision. There is nothing more intrinsically powerful than having a sense of purpose.

As a talent management professional, I have had hundreds of conversations about capability with individuals, team leaders and senior management. I have had the privilege of recognizing top talent, calling it out, and discussing its power in both current work assignments and in the scope of future career moves. People commonly say to me, “This was the most constructive conversation I have ever had.” In contrast, the dialogues they typically have with their supervisors are all about the business at hand rather than the person’s demonstrated competencies.

Leaders, I challenge you to become proficient at identifying and ‘calling out’ capability within your workforce. Find the right tools to help you and make it a daily habit. This will nurture your workforce, create loyalty, enhance job clarity and energize workers to reach greater levels of achievement.

Take the time now to identify, nurture and develop key attributes and the people who display them, so that your bench is loaded with vetted talent. Practice this at every level of your organization and watch your culture transform.

Send in the Clowns

By: Darby Fazekas, April 24, 2014

Every member of a circus has a specific job that matches their talent. If the lion tamer quits, the circus doesn’t plug the open job position with a fire-eater. It’s a safe bet that the lions would have ferocious objections to working with an unskilled lion tamer. The circus management would not ask the existing juggler to do the job of the trapeze artist until they hire someone else. Unqualified applicants would not try to fake their way through the interviewing process for the open tightrope walker position simply to fail on the job.

While it’s absurd to believe this type of employment practice would ever exist at a circus, it is a very real practice in companies globally today. Unqualified candidates are hired or an employee qualified for their current position is moved to one they are unqualified to do. Unlike a circus where it is quickly and visibly apparent if a contortionist can contort, it is not clear cut in a company if a leader can lead.

Job requirements have been merged, melded and multiplied to the degree that if a job description exists it is no longer current. Effective job alignment is unlikely if neither the supervisor nor worker understand the responsibilities of the position. Too often performance is not reviewed unless it is horrific.

The first step in fixing job alignment issues is to define the position. Spend time to answer the question, “What do we pay the person in that position to do?” Ask each of your employees to answer the question, “What does the company pay me to do?”

Next, express your answers in six to eight highly specific bullet points. Most, but not all will be measurable. For example, if you have a sales position, the bullet point of “prospect for new business” is too general. The following are more specific:

  • Set twelve new prospecting appointments with Vice Presidents of Finance or CFOs
  • Attain quarterly sales goal of $250,000 in new business
  • Conduct three financial seminars per quarter
  • Coordinate with the engineering team to customize software per the client’s request

Once you have clarity on the position requirements answer this, “Does the person doing this job have the right job competencies to be successful?” This is a more difficult question to answer. Use objective and subjective data to assess the job alignment. Behavioral assessments that include job specific competencies will give you objective data. Awareness to moods, attitude, interactions and appearance will give you subjective data.

Be open to the possibility that you have top talent in your organization performing the wrong job. Spend time discerning what the highest value activities of each employee are and evaluate how they are being utilized in your organization. When you need a clown, take a page from the Greatest Show on Earth and send in the clowns.