It is very common to associate a Continuous Improvement (CI) Culture with perfection and the complete absence of performance problems. Neither this is the case for individuals nor organizations, in fact to search for perfection is just to drive the continuous improvement process which in practice is nothing more and not less than solving efficiently and effectively problems on daily basis. A problem can be defined as a competency gap, it is something that needs to be learned at individual, team and/or organizational level. The learning outcomes are proved by successfully overcome the problem and the new developed capabilities will allow to face future problems both effectively and efficiently. Since not having problems it would mean not having anything else to learn, having always the same problem is a clear symptom of a learning issue. Indeed, problems can be opportunities that help individuals, teams and organizations to develop talent and new skills but although the benefits seem to be clear for both individual and organization, today is still not easy to develop problem solving capabilities, and it is very interesting to ask why?

Accountability: Problem’s Acceptance

From a Coaching perspective, the first crucial step to learn something new starts with the “I don’t know” declaration. Not being able to acknowledge the incompetence is one of the most frequent barriers to learning and paradoxically to develop new competencies. By not accepting that the problem relates to us, there is a powerful need to blame someone else for the performance issue. There seems to be an underlying benefit which is I am not going to “spend time” on it but usually because of the problem to perform on daily basis takes “more” time and effort. Also by choosing the “victim’s role” we are disempowering ourselves. When this behaviour becomes a habit, impotence and resentment are recurrent feelings that will create a negative feedback loop. Neither individuals nor team and organizations are conscious about that the consequences perceived from the problem have their roots causes in the lack of their own accountability in relation with the problem. To choose not to be part of the problem is at the same time to choose not to be part of the solution.

Empowerment and Engagement: Role’s Awareness

Accountability is the first step since to be part of the problem will allow us to be also part of the solutions. But sometimes individuals, teams and even organizations are tempted to try to solve the “whole” problem all by themselves. First the problem was “not mine” and now it is “all mine” seemed to be the counter reaction. In order to be empowered and to act upon the problem, it is very important to take awareness first of our role in relation to the problem. In this way we will find out what we can do about it which is always more than “nothing” but usually not enough to solve the whole problem. It is not only important to be available to learn how to successfully overcome the problem but also to learn how to achieve success working with others, because most of the problems in personal life and organizations involve third parties. Once we take accountability for the problem, role awareness leads us to empower ourselves to do whatever in our reach and engage others to not only to find out together the root causes but also take proper countermeasures to overcome the problem.

Continuous Learning: Improving on Daily Basis

It is important to realize that problem solving will require always requires to “spend time” but once the issue is successfully solved there will be also “time save” in which case it would be proper to talk about “investing” time in problem solving. The leadership needs to create transparency in performance and avoid at all cost to make problems part of the “BAU”. Also, leadership is required to help individuals, teams and organization to see clearly both the current costs of the problems and the future gains from the solution. Both efficiency and effectiveness of the problem-solving process will relay not only in our availability to learn but also in our ability to be successful working with others. Trust is an essential component of the process and it is upon leaders to develop and nurture the right mindset and organizational culture for effective and efficient problem-solving. Although in the short term the outcomes, problems solved and new skills within the team, are very important, in the long term the problem-solving capabilities to drive both organizational learning and continuous improvement are perhaps the “ultimate” competitive advantage of an organization as it was pointed out by Jack Welch in his famous quote “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive business advantage.”

Thanks for Reading.

Kind regards.

Marcelo Sauro is an internationally experienced performance and improvement senior manager. He holds an Executive MBA and Master of Science degrees and has helped people and organizations to transform themselves. Not only he led E2E transformations in Global Business Services, R&D, Supply Chain and Finance organizations at all levels within the LATAM and EMEA Regions, but he is also experienced in several industries including Life Science, Healthcare, Insurance, Fintech, Technology, Telecoms, FMCG, Chemicals, Automotive, Energy and Mining. Since 2015, he has been researching and developing content in agile and resilience through Value Ways, while working under contract for customers such as MetLife, Novartis, Vertiv (Emerson NP) and Experian among others. Previously, he worked for more than 7 years as Master Black Belt for a LATAM-based consulting group, which had ASQ, Qualtec and Oriel as business partners. Prior to that, he worked for more than 10 years at BASF and GSK in positions of growing responsibility in the area of Operational Excellence. Marcelo is currently working at Ferring's “International PharmaScience Center” (IPC) for the Global R&D organization in Copenhagen. To find out more please visit www.value-ways.com.

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