Just about all of the leaders I work with are chronic problem solvers. They love to search for things that are broken, need improvement, and present risks, and then they love to try and fix them. Much of the time this does, in fact, deliver value to the organization. But not always. Like many tools, if overused, being overly-focused on problem hunting has some liability.
First, people who are overly-focused on finding problems are also typically tinkers. They like to go in and make changes to try to get improvements. However, they often make changes that have broader impacts that end up creating more problems than they solve. At best it's net neutral, but it often makes things worse.
Second, if you look hard enough at any situation, you'll always find lots of problems. Problems are never ending. And if you focus all of your time and energy on pointing out problems, you'll create a tough culture for your colleagues. Nobody wants to be surrounded by people who are pointing out everything that is wrong or not good enough.
So, how do you avoid creating a culture where people are creating more problems than they are solving and bringing everyone down in the process?
When working with teams and companies, I suggest they strike a healthy balance between focusing on things that are working as well as things that are not working. My rule is at least half the time should be spent identifying and acknowledging those things that are going well and talking about how they keep them going well.
Here are a few things you can do to increase the amount of time and focus you spend on the things that are going well.
1. Start every meeting with wins.
I start every meeting by having each person mention one win they had recently. The goal here is to find and focus on things that are going well for people. It sets a positive tone for the meeting. It also lets other people know what was successful, and it can inspire people with new ideas and models for solving other problems.
2. Do a Root Success Analysis.
Many people do Root Cause Analysis when they are dealing with a problem. The goal here is to dig underneath the problem to find the source problem and fix it so that it never happens again.
Root Success Analysis is similar but the opposite. Here we want to identify something that is working well and then ask the all important question of "Why?" Ideally we should ask the question four to five times until we get at the root source of the success. Then we want to make sure we keep doing it and find other ways of repeating that success.
3. Define your core capabilities.
Francis Frei, Harvard Business School professor and co-author of the book Uncommon Service, says the key to strategy is defining what you are willing to "suck" at in your business. The idea is that in order to compete, you need to select one or two attributes that you are going to be the absolute best at in your market. These are your core capabilities. However, since resources are limited, you need to be willing to suck at everything else.
Knowing your core capabilities becomes a very powerful tool when it comes to problems solving. Knowing them means that not all problems, are in fact problems you care about. You only care about the ones that directly impact your core capabilities because they impact your strategy.
4. Create a "keep" list.
In any meeting or review, it's easy to create a list of things you want to change and fix. Do this, but also create a list of things you need to "keep" as well. Too often, when you go into fix one thing you end up breaking something that's working well. Creating a "keep" list draws your attention to the things that are creating value and reduces the chance that you accidently make that changes something for the worse.
By bringing attention to the successful parts of the business, you are doing two things. First, you are decreasing the likelihood that someone will accidentally make a change to something that's working well. Second, you are creating a culture of positivity and optimism. Both of these initiatives will have significant impacts on your overall success.