Taiichi Ohno (1912-1990), the man who invented the Toyota Production System, said that if you’re not actively defining and eliminating problems, then you’re part of the problem. That was why he hated people who always had the dismissive habit of replying to every one who cared to ask what was the problem: “There’s no problem. Everything is under control.”
That’s where the danger lies. For one, many problems are invisible. They’re hidden from plain sight. Take the case of your electrical consumption bill. Unless, there’s a sudden increase in usage due to a seasonal activity such as the long celebration of Christmas, you’ll never know what is hitting you. The average monthly consumption tells you nothing. You may even dismiss it as the usual, standard usage.
But what if you personally check the areas that have the highest contribution to electrical costs? I’m sure you can find something, such as the use of electricity in the hallway, during daytime, which should not happen in the first place. Do you need lighted fluorescent lamps during the day when the sun is at its brightest? How about the use of air-conditioning in an empty room? The list can become endless.
It takes humility to admit you don’t know the answer. What’s important, however, is to know and ask the right questions to people who are expected to know the answers. That’s equally important. If you ask the wrong questions, you’re guaranteed to get the wrong answers, even from people with MBAs.
Time and again, we’ve been hearing that problems are blessings in disguise. Problems are opportunities for change and offer many chances toward continual improvement. And yet, not so many people are “actively” looking for problems to solve. Chances are, many of us simply sweep a problem under the rug, in the hope that sooner or later, it will go away.
In my discussions with many of my clients, including those who have attended my public workshops, almost always, we’d arrive at the most common issues of organizations that are engaged in problem-solving. They include the following:
One is a lack of leadership, which is the number one requirement of the Philippine Quality Award. If a CEO does not have a dynamic mindset to “force” people to actively solve problems and make it a part of their key performance matrix, chances are, nothing will happen.
Two is reliance on the assistance of a few internal and external experts, or geniuses, including those with Black Belts. This can bring in additional problems, given that their approaches are usually expensive and time-consuming. The best solution is the creation and maintenance of a corporate army of problem-solvers that include ordinary people.
Three is when management starts to blame people. If you do such a thing, those who are being accused of wrongdoing may give you hundreds of excuses, not solutions. This will also prompt the workers to hide more problems in the process.
Four is when people propose the same solution to the same problem. Albert Einstein was right when he said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” This happens when there is no system for collecting new ideas.
Five is when there’s no reasonable employee recognition program. No, I don’t mean material rewards to people with excellent ideas. But sometimes, cash rewards could help, except that they can’t guarantee long-term success. What’s important is the implementation of zero-cash motivational strategies.
Six is a lack of employee training on the use of tools and techniques. You can’t simply let go of people to do things on their own. They need help to make it easy and faster for them to come up with ideas acceptable to management.
Last is a lack of a systematic employee idea program. Even if you pay people with handsome cash rewards, sooner than later, you would encounter problems like mix-ups on who gave the original idea first, delay in processing employee ideas, and a lack of participation by the line supervisors, among others.
This list is not comprehensive. As soon as you embark on problem-solving, you may uncover many new issues, as if you’re draining a swamp full of plastic wares, bottles, old appliances and yes, even alligators and decomposing bodies.
Really, problem-solving is one platform for everyone to do his or her best.
Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Facebook, Linkedin, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.