You would not go to the local DIY big box store and buy a rake, then go home to figure out what to do with it.
You should only invest in a tool that will actually assist in solving your problem.
To the folks who know me or have read my rantings, this might seem like a rehash of previous writings. In some ways it is, I am very big on repeating important things until they are heard and acted on.
This particular tangent is just that, a tangent from a previous article and a specific activity that requires a specific kind of attention.
A friend and colleague, Manjula Higginbotham, had taken the time to read a post on the move to remote work in this COVID-19 world - “Remote - This is an inflection point”. I would like to thank her right here, as this little rant would not exist without her input and suggestion.
I would also like to point out that this post, as with most of my ranting, is focused on small to mid-sized companies that have grown to 100 - 2500 employees, but somehow still want to act like a start-up with 25 people.
When it comes to problem solving there tend to be two primary enemies of focus.
Decision by consensus
You know the routine, we bring in 3 or 4 levels of people who are “smart and close to the problem” and start taking ideas of a solution. Then, as you start to refine and tweak, it is amazing that somehow the “tweaks” all start to look like the ideas that have already been eliminated. Eventually, leadership has to make a call and emotions take over.
The power of focus is lost because there are simply too many ideas. Instead of focusing many people on a small handful of ideas so we can create the best solution, the consensus machine is in full effect and we end up with 15 great ideas that we will never fully achieve.
The Solution looking for a problem
You know this one too, let’s bring in “the Bobs” (nod to the cult-classic movie Office Space) - the consultants with the answers. They have a checklist for all things. Today, this is often called a “Framework”. It is a proven process with specific parameters for your industry and size of organization; or that is what the marketing said in that LinkedIn message I got.
The power of focus is once again lost. This time because you are literally focusing on the framework and getting it right instead of solving any specific problem in your organization.
Solve your issues, do not just buy their tools.
In order to move to a more correct path of focus, we should start by referring to this process as Issue Identification instead of problem solving.
Why, are we not solving a problem?
We are, however, when we call it problem solving, we almost always skip over true identification of the core issue and more importantly what the business outcome should be as we correct that issue. We also tend to let other “problems’ (read this pet project looking for a home in your new initiative) creep in and kill the focus. Problem solving is fun, we all love to “pitch in” and save the day.
Focus requires constraints and we need to have the constraint of a well defined and aligned Business Outcome.
Here are some clean paths towards focus.
Focus first on the issue with a small team. This exercise must be very transparent and full of the kind of candor that makes for a loud meeting room (that too is another rant for another day).
Clearly identify and document the issue. Once you expand the team and bring in the people who are in fact closest to the identified problem, focus and ensure the entire group is aligned on exactly what the issue is and what the decided outcome should be.
The outcome is now the anchor. It is the thing that will be the guiding light. All solutions that are considered must now ONLY (remember, focus is not plural) serve this business outcome.
Do not “buy” a consulting firm who shows up with a rigid prepackaged framework unless it is specifically designed to solve your identified problem. Again, this could only be achieved if you put in the hard work of identifying the issue.
You would not go to the local DIY big box store and buy a rake, then go home to figure out what to do with it. You should only invest in a tool that will actually assist in solving your problem.
Here is an example of “solution creep” that can be the death of focus.
The “issue” that was being discussed in the post that led to this little rant was how to shift to lead a fully remote workforce.
At the time, I observed that some of the things creeping into the conversation were things like a fear that remote workers will spend too much time on Facebook or Netflix or Twitter or whatever.
This may or may not be an issue at your company, but it was not caused by working remotely. These kinds of distractions are available right there in the office. If this is your fear, then trust is the real issue and that should be addressed outside of the remote work conversation.
To maintain focus we must learn to say no to these “extra” solutions.