On this episode of the podcast, Matthew Wride and Charles Rogel continue our discussion around manager best practices, focusing on problem-solving. They touch on:

– How to identify the root cause of a problem before jumping to a solution.
– Having a competency-based culture where behaviors are measured and improved upon.
– Myths and common misconceptions associated with problem-solving.
– Creating a roadmap by working backward from the ideal state to your current state.


Hello and welcome to the decision-wise engaging people podcast. My name is Charles Rodel and I’m the vice president of consulting services here at decision-wise today. I’m joined by Matt Wride, the decision-wise president and senior consultant.

Hi Charles. Thanks for having me.

Today we’re going to continue our series discussing approaches to improve leadership competencies, more specifically the competency of problem solving.

And so I guess to begin, let’s talk about how we would define problem solving as a leadership competency and also why.

Sure.  We define problem solving based on four behavior statements. And that’s because in the process of measuring, which is what we do with three sixties and other instruments, we try to give someone who’s rating a leader on their problem solving ability.

We try to give them these four behavior statements and ask them for their feedback.

Number one uses pertinent and relevant facts and information when solving problems. Okay. So we’re looking to see how well are they using the underlying data? Are they making data-driven decisions?

Number two looks beyond the obvious to find the underlying causes.

Okay. So the ability to go deeper, the ability to see an analysis happening at various levels to look for root causes,

Not just make a quick decision?

Yeah, that’s right. Number three, the third behavioral statement is solves difficult problems with effective solution. That’s sort of outcome based.  It doesn’t really help someone know how to be a better problem solver, but in evaluating that we need to know, are they good at overcoming roadblocks?

Yeah. And do they get the job done?

Right. And then do they involve others?  In problem solving and that is seeking help bouncing ideas off of others asking others. for input to avoid biases and other things that creep into our problem solving. So that’s how we measure problem solving.

Yeah. So it seems pretty comprehensive. We have kind of these four actionable statements that we’re trying to use. Normally these up here on a 360 survey, as we’re measuring this for leader, other people get to kind of chime in and, and rate someone on those statements as well.

Right, and it’s my opinion that this is one of the most important competencies that for me personally, here at DecisionWise in, kind of overseeing our efforts to grow and improve finding employees that have problem solving capabilities that are high in this area is vital. And that’s because we don’t hire labor anymore to sort of just do things, to process things for us.

I mean, that’s still a part of manufacturing facilities and other organizations that are structured that way. But in a knowledge worker economy, we’re looking for people who can see a problem, and then start to automatically find a way to get rid of the roadblock. And as we hire, we’re looking for those people that can do that, because that means we’re faster, better at responding to our clients’ needs. We’re better at gaining market share all those things that we care about.

Yeah. And I think a lot of people, you know, they come into an organization. If you’re new, especially you just trying to learn your job and get up to speed and you get to a point in the job or your career where you can tend to start having an opinion about things. Right. You see the bigger picture, how things work, what needs fixing efficiencies that need to happen. And so that’s when you can get into problem solving mode to really say, yeah, this isn’t working. Right. I think I have a better idea here. Let’s try to pursue this.

Right. And that is step one, right? The ability to identify a problem is foundationally, but we don’t want people to stop there.

And that’s because anybody can point out problems. The ones, that do it well go beyond identifying the problem and they start identifying. Causes so that they can evaluate solutions. They start researching different ways to solve the problem.  We have lots of folks that can identify problems, but it’s rare when you get someone who identifies a problem, then comes preloaded with all the ideas and possible ways of solving it. Those are just gifts.

So let’s talk a little bit about then.  Building competencies, competencies in general.

I am really keen on this notion called a competency-based culture. We do a lot of measurement around here. We measure organizations, different ways, different sizes. And a lot of times we think culture represents the way things work around a particular place. Right. Kind of what it’s like to be there. I like cultures that are based on competencies and behaviors, because I think it’s easier to align people to those standards than  to say something aspirational.

I mean, so often we’ll have a set of values, like drive it’s very aspirational, but if we don’t go further and say, well, what does that look like? What does drive mean? when you further add on a behavior statement, like takes initiative comes up with identifies new opportunities for growth.

you make it much more clear to people what you’re expecting of them. And so cultures that are built around competencies that are defined and measured by behaviors, I believe are fair. In a sense that they let people know what we expect of them. They give us an objective measurement.

And so I’m really keen on organizations, building their cultures around competencies and behaviors, as opposed to around aspirational statements or success when or we drive change, you know, those things. don’t go deep and to And it’s funny cause you want to set a culture around specific values.

And so I’ll see a list of like six values for an organization and they’ll define them and sometimes they’ll be a little nebulous or they might be a little aspirational, like you’re saying, but once you say, well, how do we, what are the behaviors that drive that value? So once you start defining the competencies and behaviors, people get it. And then once you measure against those, all of a sudden people know what the expectations are and how they’re going to be evaluated..

That’s exactly right. I mean, and you do this stuff in your sleep, but that’s where we add value. As we really are able to take a nebulous idea of, Hey, this is a, a value or a concept we want to make part of our culture.

then we come in and we can help say, okay, let’s get really clear about the behaviors we want to see associated with that.

That’s a good point. So let’s talk then a little bit then about some of the myths associated with problem solving.

Yeah. think it’s fun to, tackle MIS and sort of talk about when something is by noting what it’s not, and I’ll give you an analogy listen to a podcast a while back, and it was by someone who is.

trained in forgeries and detecting forgeries and somebody says, well, you must study all sorts of forgeries all the time. And he says, no, I actually study. And study and study the real thing. And when I know it, so well, the forgeries pop-out automatic,

So becoming a subject matter expert.

Right. And I say that, and so it’s fun, but I love to talk about the myths because they help us understand really what at its core problem solving is all about. Anyway, myth, number one, problem, solving and critical thinking are the same. And that’s not true. Problem solving is a seven. This notion of critical thinking, it’s kind of what we talked about.

You can identify an issue or a problem associated with an argument or a, a decision that the organization is making, but problem solving goes beyond just identifying to actually evaluating solutions thinking of creative ways to solve the problem. Maybe you Invert your thinking to work backwards from solution to problem.

Those types of things are all associated with problem solving. And that’s not the same thing as critical thinking. Right? Number two is the second myth is good. Problem solvers intuitively shoot from the hip, and that’s a myth problem solving is a skill. You can learn how to do it. You can have systems and mental models that help you become a good problem solver.

And so don’t think that this is just something that you know, how to fix stuff. It doesn’t, that’s not how it works. Myth. Number three, if you come up with a good solution, you’re a good problem. And that’s sometimes there’s luck, you know, a broken clock is right. Twice a day. Right. It’s the old, old saying.

So not necessarily just because you can come up with a solution do you mean that you’re a problem solver, myth, number four, you are born with the ability to solve problems that is somehow in an innate ability.

No. A five you must like puzzles. You don’t have to be a puzzle person to be a problem solver.

And number six, there’s only one answer to a problem, or you can only solve a problem in one way and good problem solvers. They look at a variety of angles of attack to a problem there they’re not focused on one way. They Keep all their options open until they’ve evaluated the different scenarios.

So in that sense, by discussing what problem solving is not, I think we have a better understanding of what it is.

Great. So let’s talk then more about the competency itself. Like what it means, what does it mean to be good at this? Okay. Yeah. The first thing that I want to talk about is something that a consulting firm partners in leadership teaches, and that is beliefs are foundational to change and to problem solving.

Okay. so first to be a good problem solver, you have to believe that you have the. that you can affect that outcome. And you’re not a victim. You also have to have a belief in the underlying solution and, and the reason that you need to solve the problem and, and all sorts of those things.

You’ve, got to have reason to care if you will. And you have to have confidence that what you are proposing. We’ll work. So again, you have to start with your beliefs and if you don’t believe you’re a problem solver, you probably won’t be a good one.

And if you don’t believe in the underlying mission of what you’re trying to accomplish, you probably won’t be a good problem solver. So make sure that you have identified your beliefs and that those beliefs are aligned with where you want to go.

good problem solvers, have a pattern. And again, I’m sourcing this material to partners in leadership, but they see it. They own it, they solve it and they do it. In other words, it’s, action-oriented that’s why you don’t have to be good at puzzles is it’s not a game. It’s not just something you sit around and do on the train as you commute to and from work problem solving as an activity.

And you get in and you, you identify problems you move things forward. Some other tips that I like to talk about is remain objective list the obstacles that are stopping you from progressing. There’s a great saying that the territory is not the map. And what I mean by that is sometimes we can think that the map represents the problem.

Like our conceptualization of the problem is, is what it really is, It’s not. And so, you have to be really, really good at being a great cartographer. A good problem solver is a really great cartographer or a map builder. Okay.  You’re an outdoors guys, but the better your map is the more fun you can have.

And so if you want to be a great problem solver, Everything about that problem. That’s what I mean by map building, you know, the nuances, the elevation gains all of the tributaries and all the things associated with that. And so good problem solvers are great. Cartographers if you will.

And this is, I see this happen a lot because we’ll do kind of action planning sessions with clients and we’ll get into this you know, identify what the problem is. So, we have poor communication in the organization and we’ll sit down with a group. Well, and everyone jumps into solution. Right off the bat. So we need to do this and this and this, and they don’t map out the problem effectively. So they don’t identify, well, why is it not working? So we, we call it the current state, right?

So identify what is happening now. That’s not working. and if you can have a longer discussion and you can pull the reins back on people from getting into problem solving immediately. They will really have dissected what the problem is first or the issues are, get them all on the table, summarize what they are now they can go and problem solve. So, yeah, too many times we jumped headlong into coming up with ideas for solutions that. Not baked well enough.

You’re so right. that’s why I like to propose some sort of like a 70, 30 rule spent 70% of the time understanding of the problem and only 30% coming up with solutions if you just walk in and say, Hey, let’s list all the possibilities. You’re going to spend time going down, rabbit holes and things that won’t matter. Whereas if I loved your phrase mapped the problem. If you’ve accurately mapped the problem, a lot of times the solution reveals itself.

So asking questions. Why times three, you know, Y Y Y Y you know for example, customer comes and says they don’t like the platform. Well, why is that? Well, it’s hard to use. What does that mean? You know, and you just keep digging down till you get to the root causes, then the solution presents itself.

What problem are you trying to solve?

I think problems solving needs a system. So if you’re doing it with people, you need to have a facilitator. You need to be organized. do you need to list your efforts and record your experimentation? I love the idea of inverting, your thinking, which is reverse engineering.

Sometimes we look at a problem and we try to think of it as how do I go from point a to B, but instead of going that way, how all the things you need to get to point B and then work backwards. It’s called. So it’s a tip of inverting your thinking. So if,  my desire is to have a really great training session with a group of employees, start with that, identify the ideal and work back of all the things that you need in order to accomplish that.

And that will. Create a better map or a better roadmap of where you want to go. Then if you just say, well, okay, now we need to get a room. Now we need to get some tables right now. I need a trainer. And those things that working backwards from the ideal state, you mentioned like the future state, describe your future state and how do we, you get there and that’s in verse thinking and that’s where your, you invert your thinking to do.

You’ve got to be open-minded. You can not solve problems without others. You have to be rational. You have to be willing to change your mind when new information presents itself and gives you a reason to change your mind. You have to cast your ego aside and look for the good of the organization and solving the problem is more important than getting credit.

I think good problem solvers are well-versed in other areas and disciplines. They find solutions. I’ve seen business people find solutions and things such as biology and what that is is they’ll look at an ecosystem and understand how ecosystems interact and they’ll use that understanding to say, well, that applies to my organization. That applies to how we interact as a team. So they’re able to use connections between various disciplines, science, physics, and all sorts of things

one last point I really want to make is about as I mentioned the need to understand concepts from other fields, I wanted to give you an example here, how we do that here?

Yeah.  There’s a principle in quantum mechanics called the observer effect that when you observe a particle, you actually can change its state. The famous illustration is known as show diggers cats, conundrum, where the cat can either be dead or alive. And you don’t know that until you open the box and observe it. And once you observe it, these really weird physics takes over and alter things. Okay. , we have noticed that when we measure things with leaders, they improve, not because they’ve actually done any work, but simply because they know they’re being observed, they improve their performance.

Yeah. And so that was interesting. We’re sitting around talking about the observer effect and we were making connections. To physics, to quantum mechanics, you know, and we sort of have that interesting insight   How much of what we do is just observer effect and how much of it is actually identifying a problem that then a person can go address.

So that’s a simple example, but nonetheless, an example of how we can be well-versed in other areas. And those can lead to problem solving and too. Better outcomes.

I liked some of the points here, like enlisting other open-minded people, because sometimes I think people. Don’t consider themselves very innovative.

And so when there’s a problem that gets stuck and they can’t really think of some ideas. And, and so I say, well, you probably need to get a, partner to kind of brainstorm a bit on how to solve this, or maybe your team or whatever. So again, opening it up to a group. And then there’s different styles because if you’re more of an introvert, you prefer to maybe think.

By herself to kind of come up with some ideas and solutions, then bounce those ideas off of other people. If you’re an extrovert ideas, normally come through group discussion. And so you’re able to kind of coalesce your ideas more within a group setting as opposed to being alone. Yeah. And that’s a, nice example where a facilitator who knows what they’re doing can be really helpful.

They may be able to send out some pre-work, so introverts have time to prepare. And then they also balance that with. An hour-long discussion that allows the extroverts to get in and sort of get those, those discussions going. So that’s why facilitation is important.

there’s one last point sort of before we kind of tie this up, this is really vital to diversity equity and inclusion.

Oh yeah.

Problem solving good problems are reliant on diverse perspectives. And so this is one way, rather than just quotas, like how many people serve in leadership, you know, how many peoples of color, things like that. You want to make real difference from diversity equity and inclusion efforts, enlist others as part of problem solving.

So gather their perspectives, listen to their solutions because. I’m amazed of nuances and sort of background information that I didn’t even know, because I didn’t realize that a word meant something different to a particular person of color things. good problem solving is relying on perspectives.

And then this is therefore reason why diversity equity inclusion matters. And this is a good area to make some gains. That’s really good point. So as we’re talking about this what are some of the, like, as you’re trying to teach problem solving, what are challenges there? What, what do  people get hung up on?

So there’s no. Formula you can follow for problem solving. And I, liken it to someone who learns how to be a good writer. The best way to be a good writer is to be a voracious reader. And just by consuming so many different types of writing yourself, you begin to see patterns and styles and you, you can take what you like from one area.

Same thing with music. We’re sitting here with Jay our producer here. Jake’s a great musician, partially because he can see. All types of genres of music. Sure. Well, problem solving is the same thing. you should study people who solve problems. You should look at how problems are solved you should engage in after action reviews, where you, go back and process and digest. what went wrong and how did we fix it? Yeah, You have to become a student of the actual discipline of problem solving. And that’s in my view, really the only way to learn it. There’s no great formula.

I think I’ve noticed as most leaders, as we’re like debriefing your coaching leaders on 360 results are pretty good problem solvers, right? so as a, maybe as a individual contributor, you were good at fixing things, getting things done, solving problems, which got you promoted.

Now you’re kind of in this, position to help others solve problems, but also to kind of remove roadblocks for your team. So that is one of your kind of core skills as to help keep things running efficiently taking out the, the difficulties or the, you know, the barriers out of people’s pain

And your point is right. And this is why we say you can’t just go cherry, pick your favorite competencies and think that that’s a great assessment or that’s a good competency culture to your point. Yeah. Managing change and problem solving and go together because managing change is the final step of problem solving if you will. And so that’s why you have to think about how your competencies are interrelated and not just say I’m a fan of decision-making, I’m a fan of communication. You need to think. Well, how do they fit together to create the type of leader that will transform this organization?

Right. Excellent. Well, Matt, thank you very much for the insight here on problem solving. Thank you everyone for joining us today. And we look forward to having you join us on our next engaging people podcast. Thanks guys.