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Problem Solving: An Invaluable Resource




by:
W. Cory Phillips
Weltman, Weinberg & Reis Co., L.P.A. - Cleveland Office

 
May 21, 2013

Previously published on May 16, 2013

Consider whether you organization routinely achieves stated goals or properly identifies and corrects problems?  Is there an established procedure to identify and correct negative trends?  Effective problem solving can drastically affect the performance of your business by improving areas such as customer service and employee morale and allow your organization to achieve its stated goals.

Problem solving is a process or technique used to achieve stated goals and correct problems or negative trends that are likely negatively impacting your bank.  Failure to properly address problems and achieve stated goals can result in a decrease in employee morale to an increase in operating expenses.  In addition to correcting problems and overcoming obstacles, problem solving is a great team building exercise as it requires involvement from all personnel.  Each employee should be utilized throughout all phases of problem solving.  Five (5) suggested steps for problem solving are addressed below and separately discussed.

1. Identify the Apparent Problems or Obstacles.  All organizations have chronic problems and obstacles that impede stated goals or hinder performance.  Before a corrective action can be implemented, there must be a high-level understanding of the problem and the underlying issue that caused the problem.  The underlying issue, however, is often masked by numerous superficial problems.  For example, an audit or survey may reveal that your bank scored poorly in the area of customer service.  The audit also demonstrates that customers point to long wait times at the bank as the reason for the poor customer service numbers.  However, a long wait time is nothing more than a superficial or apparent problem.  The underlying cause for a long wait time may stem from an issue in the process involving employee hiring or employee training.  Identifying the numerous superficial problems or obstacles provides a starting point on the path to the underlying issue.

2. Collect and Analyze Data/Facts Relevant to the Apparent Problems Identified.  Without the facts, problems remain problems.  Relevant objective facts provide the requisite guidance towards a solution.  Facts surrounding the apparent problem should be considered your compass towards the discovery of the underlying issue and towards the implementation of a corrective action.  For example, the facts and circumstances relevant to the long wait times may reveal that customers perceive anything over three minutes as a long wait time.  The more facts that are gathered, the more narrowly defined the apparent problem becomes, thus making it easier to discover the underlying issue.

Interviewing all employees is a great way to obtain necessary and objective facts.  However, interviews will only be productive if you include a diverse group of employees familiar with the problem, and if you are able to elicit candid responses from each.  If interviewees feel threatened or harassed, their answers will be guarded and will not result in a true objective picture.  The organization must provide each employee with an introduction and explanation of the interview process, and satisfactorily explain that regardless of his or her answer, it will not result in an act of retribution.

3. Identify the Root Cause of the Apparent Problem.  Root-cause analysis allows for the identification of the true underlying cause of an identified problem.  One method for obtaining the root cause is called “5 Whys.”  The “5 Whys” method requires asking the question “Why” and when presented with an answer ask “why” again until you confidently identify the root cause (normally when you cannot answer why any longer).   It is likely that there is more than one answer to each question requiring additional investigation.  Accordingly, it may be necessary to branch out and follow up on each answer.

The following is an example of how the “5 Whys” method may work in the previous identified scenario:

  1. Why are customers waiting for more than three minutes in line?  The bank tellers are averaging between two and four minutes in assisting customers.
  2. Why are the bank tellers averaging between two and four minutes in assisting customers?  The majority of the bank tellers have less than one year in experience.
  3. Why do the majority of the bank tellers have less than one year in experience?  Employee turnover is high.
  4. Why is employee turnover high? Employees feel overwhelmed and unprepared for the job.    
  5. Why are the employees overwhelmed and unprepared?  There is no formal training program for the new hires.
  6. Why do we not have a formal training program for new hires?

4. Identify and Implement a Corrective Action.  In considering the above scenario, a proper corrective action plan would be the creation and implementation of a formal training program for all new hires.  In the creation and implementation of a corrective action plan, a diverse group of people should be involved.  The more diverse the group involved, the more likely a diverse and more complete set of ideas will be generated.  Further, any corrective action chosen is likely to result in unintended consequences.  A diverse group of people are more likely to anticipate certain unintended consequences and prepare accordingly.

5. Monitor Progress.  Developing and incorporating a corrective measure does not end the task of problem solving.  Collecting and analyzing data must continue.  Failure to continue the collection and analysis of data will prevent your organization from discovering if the corrective measure is working.  If the problem or trend continues, new corrective measures or additional corrective measures may need to be implemented.

Going forward, resolve to be proactive and implement a problem solving process at your organization.  Again, it will allow you to identify and understand internal problems or obstacles, identify the root cause of the problems or obstacles, implement a corrective measure, and analyze whether the corrective measure is having the desired impact.



 

The views expressed in this document are solely the views of the author and not Martindale-Hubbell. This document is intended for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for consultation with a licensed legal professional in a particular case or circumstance.
 

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