How To Solve Problems In The Office

Solving a problem is much more than simply making a decision

Problem solving can be a long drawn out process that relies on creative thinking and understanding of why the problem exists.  Often times, executives don’t spend enough effort on the problem finding and solving stages because they have a misguided belief that acting quickly and decisively is what benefits the company.  Mistakes are made because this shortcut doesn’t allow the problem solver to focus on the real causes of the problem and all of the possible solutions.  An example of this happening would be a company responding to a drop in sales by offering incentives to the sales representatives when the real problem may have been due to administrative problems or poor pricing strategies. 

The best way to go about solving a problem is to follow these problem solving strategy steps.  First, be aware of the problem; then analyze the problem and its causes; search for creative alternatives; choose an alternative; and finally implement the alternative and evaluate the decision . 

An example of problem solving in the office

To illustrate these steps, we will use Company X as an example. To avoid going bankrupt in our current declining economy, executives at Company X, like many other companies, have decided to downsize their staff. This seems like a good idea because there are more employees than work being produced. The question is who the executives pick to layoff. Immediately the secretarial staff comes to mind because the work that they do does not directly affect the sales for the company. Out of three secretaries, one is let go which saves the company approximately $25,000 per year. The cleaning crew is also let go and management informs the remaining secretaries that it is their job to keep the offices clean now. This will also save the company a significant amount of money each year.

The company is saving money but the morale in the office is extremely low. This is where the first step of problem solving comes in. The management must be aware that a problem exists. This is the most difficult step because things are often not what they seem and finding a problem is comparative to a detective game where the critical clue is sometimes obvious and sometimes not (Mackenzie. 2000). At Company X, Mr. Supervisor discovers that the amount and quality of the work coming from the secretaries has begun to decrease.

Now that Mr. Supervisor is aware that there is a problem, he must analyze the problem and its causes. In talking to the secretaries themselves and other employees, Mr. Supervisor finds that the secretaries feel overworked and unappreciated in addition to fearful that their jobs will be eliminated next. This is an example of how downsizing negatively affects its survivors. The secretaries feel they could be fired at any moment. They feel that nobody in the company understands how hard they work, especially now that there is only two of them left. They also feel that they were given tasks like cleaning the office because management feels that the other higher level employees are too important to empty their own wastebasket. The main job of the secretaries is to do the accounting and bookkeeping for the office, they feel that nobody realizes this or how time consuming it is because of all the menial tasks they are given by other office employees. Because of this, the secretaries are not happy, thus creating a negative atmosphere which affects everybody in the office.

Mr. Supervisor knows he has to get morale and productivity to increase. Bringing back the laid off employees is not an option because the company does not have the financial means to accomplish this. This is where the third step; searching for creative alternatives comes into play.

One solution that Mr. Supervisor comes up with is to move someone from somewhere else in the company to the secretarial department part time. This way the secretaries would have extra help. There are several other departments that have an excess of employees and they probably should have been the ones laid off in the first place. However, doing this would be like feeding the fire. If the executives get wind that there are more jobs that could be cut, they will be. This would cause the same problems in the other departments that the secretaries are facing.

The company could hire a part time temp to help the secretaries. This however would cost the company money and most likely would not be approved of at the executive level.

Another solution is to redistribute the workflow in the office. Everybody will be responsible for cleaning their own area instead of relying on only the secretaries to do it for them. The other employees will have to do the work that they are perfectly capable of doing, such as typing up a memo or taking a phone call instead of pushing it off on one of the secretaries. With all departments helping to complete the small tasks, the secretaries will once again have time to work on their main task of bookkeeping, and because others are doing the little things too, they won’t mind doing them so much themselves.

With all options presented...

In the fourth step, Mr. Supervisor must weigh the pros and cons of each alternative and make a choice. In the end, he chooses to go with his third option of redistributing the work-flow. It seems like the most cost effective way to get productivity and morale back up. The secretaries will appreciate that they aren’t the only ones that have to do the little meaningless jobs and hopefully they will feel more respected and appreciated. Hopefully the happy secretaries will make for a happier office. The only con was that the other employees might complain that they have to take on tasks that they feel are beneath them. Mr. Supervisor will have to find a way to address this issue.
The next step is where the alternative is implemented. Mr. Supervisor calls a staff meeting where the new expectations are explained. He lets the employees know that everyone has to help out during the tough times and working as a team will help ensure the survival of the company in this hard economy.

Finally it is time to evaluate the decision. This is where Mr. Supervisor must ask, “How effective is the decision I made?” He observes the employees for a time and learns that productivity and morale have increased. The secretaries seem happier and do not seem to feel as overworked and unappreciated. The other employees are not upset by having to take on a few extra tasks. With everybody helping each other out, nobody feels overwhelmed and the office is a much more harmonious place.
By using the problem solving strategy steps, Mr. Supervisor was able to keep everybody at Company X happy from the executives to the secretaries. He was able to avoid more possible layoffs and avoid costing the company more money. Taking the time to think these steps through helps people avoid jumping to conclusions that may seem right at the time but in the long run will not be effective.


References:

DuBrin, A. J. (2004). Applying psychology: Individual & organizational effectiveness (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.

Mackenzie, K. (2000). Finding and solving the right problems. Retrieved March 13, 2009 from http://www.family-business-experts.com/organizational-problem-solving.html

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