Finding Lasting Solutions in the Workplace

How often have you addressed a problem in your business only to find it recurring within a few days or weeks? More to the point, how useful would it be to find more permanent and lasting solutions? Whether the challenges which recur in your business are in sales or production, marketing or engineering, here is a fundamental guide to put you and your team onto a path for more sustainable solutions. The key to the solution is in your view of the problem.

Problems bring up our level of anxiety. “Oh no, there it is again! If I do not get this fixed, my boss will be in here jumping down my throat.” With our anxiety raised, we move into action to correct the problem, and voila! Things get better. With the improvement in place, our anxiety lowers and so does our level of action and attention. Without that vigilance in place, whatever caused the issue to arise in the first place can reassert itself.

All this is well and good if you have a tolerance for swings in productivity and you are simply trying to keep operations between upper and lower limits. But that makes it hard to ever take a vacation and not have things fall apart.

Now, let’s look at a shift in frame of reference, which can make a big difference. Suppose that instead of focusing on problems, your focus of attention was tuned to a vision or outcome. A vision that we can get excited about does not evoke anxiety. Instead it evokes passion for the vision and energy for its fulfillment. That passion is turned into action just as in a problem focus, but here is the key: The action is a step toward a vision. And a step towards fulfillment of the vision evokes more passion, not less anxiety. The actions may look the same from the outside, but they have a very different outcome.

This is not to say that there is no problem-solving and no anxiety in a vision-based frame of reference. However, by keeping our eyes on the prize, rather than being focused on what does not work, we sustain passion and energy in a way that allows for growth. In short, we get to deal with ever larger and more exciting outcomes rather than revisiting the same ones over and over. Practitioners of this way of working eventually learn that problem solving fits into the larger structure of achieving vision with much less anxiety, if only because all concerned can see the reason for going through the pain and discomfort of change.

Charles Koch, CEO of Koch Industries and noted business author, understood this well. In “The Future of American Business,” Koch opined that “Our vision controls the way we think and therefore the way we act… [T]he vision we have of our jobs determines what we do and the opportunities we see or do not see.”

Larry Bossidy, retired CEO of Honeywell, has a more operational point of view. He insists that unit leaders justify all change initiatives by connecting them to the strategic vision of the company or of the unit. He then pushes hard to satisfy himself that the organization has the skills and commitment to ensure that the change would be successful. In his book, “Execution, The Discipline of Getting Things Done,” Bossidy provides this advice for leaders of change: “Never start a project unless you are willing to see it through until it is embedded in the DNA of your organization.”

In this simple shift from reacting to problems to creating vision we see the reason for well-articulated, credible vision statements for companies, divisions and even work groups. Leaders must look hard at the vision that they hold for their organizations and learn how to articulate it and enroll others in that vision or everything simply looks like another problem to solve and not a step towards some larger goal.

Originally published in Arkansas Business, Barry Goldberg On Leadership, May 1, 2006.