Primary Blog/Leadership & Team Building/Become a Better Problem-Solver: 5 Steps to Identify Problems Clearly and Find Better Solutions

Become a Better Problem-Solver: 5 Steps to Identify Problems Clearly and Find Better Solutions

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Are you an executive or high-potential manager looking for ways to grow in leadership and influence? Getting buy-in to your solution or recommendation is key so that you can have the opportunity to create better solutions. But first, it would be wise to get crystal clear about the problem you are trying to solve.

I’m answering one of the main questions my clients have been asking: “How do you articulate a problem effectively?”

Being able to identify what the problem is and how to communicate that problem with others is a skill. This skill is key to effectively sharing your solutions with others.

Albert Einstein once said that if he was given an hour to solve an important problem, he would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and 1 minute solving it.

Here’s what I,
Dr. Grace Lee, say about it:

"The effectiveness in which you articulate the problem at hand is directly proportional to your ability to solve it with clarity, and getting full buy-in from others to select you for the job."

Let’s imagine here for a moment that you have a specific pain in your body. It is very unique and happens periodically throughout the day. One option is to go to a doctor. However, if you were to randomly meet a stranger who was able to clearly describe all of your symptoms down to the specifics better than you could have described it, you would probably be willing to try their recommended solution even if they didn’t have medical credentials.

Articulating the problem is more important than solving it.

People will listen if you can talk about a problem more clearly than they can. Most people do not spend a lot of time getting clear on the problem, since many people want to jump right in and start solving it.

When we rush in to solve a problem without clearly identifying it first, we miss a lot of opportunities. We may take on things that waste resources, time, and finances or even pursue things that are misaligned with your overall strategy. This is why it is important to clarify the problem with sufficient rigor before trying to solve it.

That is why I offer a 5-step process on articulating problems that you can implement on your own in any situation for which you require clear understanding and buy-in. This process is based on my 3-pronged approach to mastering the art of communication, what I call The Golden Triangle of masterful communication:

  • ​Audience: Who is it that you need buy-in from? Who are you solving the problem for? Remember, even the most effective message will not work if it is given to the wrong audience.
  • ​Context: What is the situation, what is the environment at hand, and all the different contextual features at play that could affect buy-in and understanding?
  • ​Message: The moment you know your audience, allow that knowledge to inform you on how to articulate the problem to achieve the right message-to-audience match.

The Golden Triangle is the foundation to following the 5-steps process effectively. By the end of these five steps, you will have a statement that articulates the problem clearly.

We can remember these five steps using the acronym

F - Find the need

O - Outline desired outcomes

C - Contextualize the problem

U - Uncover the resources

S - State the problem

Find the need

The goal is to find the true need. We are looking for the essence of the problem, not the symptoms or what they think the problem might be. When the essence of the problem is found, it will point in the direction of the core need. At the heart of the problem is usually the essence of what the audience’s need truly is.

It will sound something like, “We are looking for X so that we can achieve Y, and success is going to be measured by Z.”

The best way to find the need is to ask genuine questions out of care and curiosity. This will help you get to the bottom of a problem. Begin with what you already know and let what you know grow by asking questions.

When asking these questions, it is important to uncover why this is a need. Why must we solve this problem? How is it urgent? It might also be worthwhile to ask if solving this problem right now would be in alignment with the priorities.

Outline desired outcomes

Once we have identified the root need, we move to understanding the outcome they desire to achieve once the problem is solved.

What exactly does the desired end-state look like? Who stands to benefit from such an outcome? When the problem is solved what is success going to look and feel like? Are there any collateral benefits from solving this problem? Some will directly benefit, then some will see a benefit that is passed down from those direct benefits. And how will we measure the benefits?

The moment you achieve true clarity of a desired outcome, you will experience a sense of inspiration and intrinsic motivation. The feeling of “yes, this is what we work towards, it is in alignment with what we value the most - our top priorities.”

Contextualize the problem

Put the problem into context so your audience will understand. One of the best ways to do that is to answer the questions “What have they tried?” and “Why didn’t it work?”

Chances are this problem has been on the forefront of their minds for some time now. They may have tried a list of things to solve the problem from the moment they realized that there was a problem.

Understand what was missing from other solutions. Was it resources, external knowledge, wisdom, an application, a process, or a system for scale? What was missing and why didn’t their solution work?

Contextualizing the problem is when people become connected to the pain of not solving the problem - they are connected to all the consequences of not solving it. This instills a sense of urgency and increases the likelihood of people taking action to buy into the value of the solution you unveil. A sense of urgency is an important key to producing change.

Uncover the resources

Uncover resources that are currently existing and not yet existing, as well as who is responsible for implementing the solution.

Resources are important because there will eventually be manpower, capital, and other resources that are necessary to implement the solution.

This is where you want to uncover what resources they are willing and able to devote to solve this problem. This could uncover their current constraints as well. There may be hesitation or it might take some time or creativity to come up with those resources.

This could shine a light on certain bottlenecks or constraints. You may need to provide a timeline or expand the time horizons for the solution to the problem.

State the problem

State the problem with all of the understanding and context you have just uncovered. This is where that statement we talked about earlier comes in. “We are looking for X so that we can achieve Y, and success is going to be measured by Z.”

That is the ultimate statement. You are expanding the three parameters (X, Y, and Z) in the context that you have uncovered throughout the whole process and making it into an articulate problem statement.

You will be able to understand who your audience is, how they communicate, and how to best present this information. Use the Golden Triangle as the foundation throughout this process to create the best problem statement keeping the audience in mind so that you know what type of language to use and who it will inspire.

If you have done this right, the problem statement will be completely in alignment with their highest objectives and their mission. Once you have given them the problem statement, check in with them by asking something like, “Are we on the same page? Did I get everything right, or am I missing something?”

It is going to be inspiring to hear that summarized and articulated in a way that is clearer than how they would have articulated the problem themselves. When this is done right and you ask for confirmation, you will hear responses like, “Oh my gosh, that is exactly right. You got everything and I couldn’t have said it better myself.”

Now it is time to move away from the knowledge-gathering stage and move on to the application. If you’d love to learn how to put the principles covered in this blog into action, join me in my executive coaching program where I’ll introduce you to a powerful self- and career-development process.

This is an implementation-to-results program for growth-oriented executives who seek greater career fulfillment through becoming a more skilled version of themselves. It is designed to help you master your mind, develop deeper insights, elevate your communication skills, and become inspired in your career growth.

If you’d love to find out how my methodology can help you with your career goals, apply HERE for an opportunity to work with me.

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© Mastery Insights Inc. All Rights Reserved