“The problem is, we need to…”

Have you ever said those words? I have. It took me a while to realize what’s wrong with this phrase. The problem is we need a marketing plan. The problem is we need to train everyone. The problem is we need more accountability. The problem is we need more money.

Did you see what’s happening? Each statement proposes something we need to do – a solution – before ever defining a problem - the reason it needs to be done.

This might seem like semantics, but lots of people waste lots of time and money on new initiatives before they have a clear sense of what’s wrong, why it is happening, what they’re trying to change, and why they believe the solution will work.

Think about it – of all the initiatives you have ever introduced, how many times did you clearly state the problem, its causes, the influence on those causes, the solution, and how the solution would change those causes?

And how many of those initiatives were meaningfully and measurably successful?

Few people invest enough time in this critical-thinking process. As a result, most new initiatives face resistance, never get implemented, fall apart, fail, or drift away into obscurity. If we were truly responsible stewards of our employers, half of these initiatives would never be more than an idea. And we would be better for it.

To manage our resources wisely and address the complex problems we face, it’s not enough to simply throw solutions at the wall. In the words of some of our favorite colleagues, 90% of the solution is an accurate statement of the problem. The next time you catch yourself describing a problem by proposing a solution, think about this:

Why do you think you need a marketing plan? How many people attended? How many should have attended? Why didn’t they attend? Is it because no one knew about the event? Or because the event is worthless? Or because it was scheduled poorly? How do you know?

Why are you training people? Are you assuming people who know the rules won’t violate them? Do you really think they don’t know? Or do they not care? Or are they violating the rules because it’s the path of least resistance? Can training really fix the problem?

Where do you think we need accountability? Describe the situation in detail. How often does that happen? Is it a rules problem? An enforcement problem? An investigation and judicial problem? A sanctions problem? Would something other than accountability solve the problem?

What would you do with that money? What will the results of that activity do for you? Is that the real problem, or is it something else? What could you do with 10% of that money? What is the reason you don’t have the money you need in the first place?

Whether you are developing a long-term plan, restructuring a troubling new member activity, or introducing a new communication system, take the extra time to clearly define the problem you are trying to solve. Make sure you have the logic to back it up before you blow your budget and another term launching something new.

What problem are you trying to solve? Contact us to see how RISE can help you define the problem and then help you solve it.