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Creative Problem Solving: How to Be a Change Agent

This lesson is a part of an audio course Creative Problem Solving by Ross Maynard

In this course, we have talked about the different types of a problem encountered in an organisation and the tools and techniques we can use to address them. Accountants play a key role in problem-solving because we are good at analysis. We, accountants, can provide a useful backbone of rigour and the discipline of a methodical approach to any problem-solving team.

But we do need to enhance our problem-solving skills to become an even greater asset for problem-solving.

And we can also play the role of change-agent, helping others in the organisation become more creative in their problem-solving.

Let us look first at how we can become change agents.

One of the most powerful quotes on culture change I have ever seen is from John Shook, Chairman of the Lean Global Network:

"The way to change culture is not to first change how people think, but instead to start by changing how people behave – what they do." —John Shook, "How to Change Culture," MIT Sloan Management Review, Winter 2010.

Of course, the hard part is changing how people behave!

As someone that others respect; as a manager; or as a team leader; you can influence how people behave by encouraging behaviours that support problem-solving and discouraging behaviours that act against it.

Here are things you can practically do to start changing behaviours:

  1. Behave as you would want others to behave. Communicate clearly; be respectful and polite; call-out inappropriate behaviour or language.

  2. Stick to clear values and demonstrate commitment to doing things better.

  3. Support the people you are responsible for – coach them to do better and encourage them in their personal and skills development.

  4. Reflect on your own actions, and intended actions, to ensure you behave positively and supportively.

  5. Ensure that the organisational processes that you are responsible for are easy to use, and make it easy to do the right thing for customers, employees, and other stakeholders.

  6. Communicate frequently and check in with everyone you work with regularly so that you know that you are all on the right path.

  7. Use the Forcefield Analysis tool to assess the forces pushing in favour of change, and those pushing against. Develop plans to enhance the positive forces and neutralise, or at least mitigate, the negative forces.

  8. Take it step by step. Take stock regularly and work to make it better.

To develop your own creative problem-solving skills, you need to practise the tools we have covered. In this section, we do just that with a number of exercises using each of the tools I have presented in the course.

Develop these skills and use them in your organisation whenever you can, and you will gain a reputation as a truly creative accountant!

To help you practise the tools, take some time to think of a problem or issue that is facing you in your work or in your personal life. Make it a fairly "meaty" problem that has been concerning you for a while and for which, as yet, you have no clear solution.

Once you have done that, we can start with the tools. First, the Problem Statement.

Write a problem statement for the issue that is facing you in your work, or in your personal life:

  1. What is the problem?

  2. Who is affected by it, and how?

  3. What are the consequences of the problem?

  4. What are the impacts of the problem on you, your family, your organisation, the customer, etc.?

Describe the problem in two or three sentences.

Drawing the operational process that your problem exists within will help understand its context and identify the factors and elements that may contribute to the problem.

  1. Draw every step in the flow of work in the operational process where your problem arises.

  2. Study the process map and identify the issues and constraints that may trigger your problem, or exacerbate its impact.

  3. Revise your Problem Statement in the light of your greater understanding.

  4. Use the Ishikawa Diagram in the next section to analyse possible causes for the problem.

Use the structure of the Ishikawa Diagram to conduct further analysis of your problem and start to identify possible root causes. List the root causes you think are the most important drivers of the problem in each category. Add other categories if you think it helps.

  1. Based on your understanding of the problem so far, list the forces that will support the resolution of the problem; and the forces that might obstruct it.

  2. How can you enhance the forces that support the resolution of the problem?

  3. How can you mitigate or negate the forces that might obstruct its resolution?

Look at the problem you are facing from the point of view of others affected by it.

  1. Identify every individual or group involved in, or affected by, the problem.

  2. If you can, talk to them about the problem and get their views on it.

  3. Find a quiet space, free of distractions, and take some time to put yourself into the viewpoint of each of those stakeholders:

    • How do they feel about the problem?

    • What do they think might be the causes of the problem?

    • How do they think we should go about resolving the problem?

    • What would solving this problem mean for them?

  4. Review and revise your Ishikawa Diagram and Forcefield Analysis in the light of the additional insight you have gained to other people's views on it.

The Four Frame Model will help you analyse the problem in relation to its organisational context:

  • How is the problem affected by the operation of the procedures and business processes of the organisation?

  • How does the problem impact on the ability of the people in the organisation to do their job effectively and efficiently?

  • How does the problem impact the politics and interest groups in the organisation? Will that affect the ability to resolve the problem?

  • How does the problem feed into the myths, rumours, and stories that are circulating in the organisation?

By this time, you should know a lot about your problem. You understand the scope and extent of the problem; the context in which it operates; some possible root causes of the problem; the people affected by it, and have considered their views on it.

Now it is time to start developing ideas for possible solutions.

I find going for a walk, or taking some exercise is a great way of coming up with ideas for problems I am facing – like coming up with ideas for courses like this!

Try this to get the ideas flowing:

  • Read your Problem Statement and review the Process Map, Ishikawa Diagram, and Forcefield Analysis.

  • Get ready for a walk, or whatever exercise you like best.

  • Before you start, think of the Problem Statement, and put it to the back of your mind.

  • As you walk, or exercise, ideas for your issue should be forthcoming.

  • When you get back home, note down the ideas you have had.

The more you practice this skill, the easier it will become.

Are there any Bright Spots of good practice that can help you resolve the problem?

  1. Find out if anyone else in your organisation is dealing with a similar problem. What are they doing (if anything) that is working to address the problem?

  2. Speak to your contacts in other organisations. Are they faced with a similar problem? If so, what are they doing anything to address the problem; and is it working?

  3. Identify any Bright Spots of good practice that are effective in tackling the problem.

  4. Examine the different approaches that are being taken to the problem and see how you can build on them to address the problem you are facing.

Focussing on the situation after a solution has been implemented, rather than fixating on the problem itself, can bring some insight into issues that need to be addressed to facilitate a solution.

Consider that problem that you have been working on.

  1. What would it be like if you woke up tomorrow and this problem had disappeared?

  2. How would the people, processes, and other aspects of the organisation operate without the problem?

  3. What does good look like for the solution to this problem?

    • Business processes and methods.

    • People and skills.

    • Management and Organisation Structure.

    • Regulation and Rules.

    • Performance measurement and monitoring.

    • Communication and Culture.

    • Assets and Equipment.

    • Customers.

    • Suppliers.

    • Other stakeholders.

  4. Are there any occasions when the problem doesn't occur, or is less serious? What is different about those circumstances?

  5. How could we act on the problem to reduce its seriousness score by one point?

Thank you for listening to this lesson. In the next lesson, we discuss the key learning points from this course.

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Written by

Ross Maynard

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