In search of problems

Friday, 11 February 2011 00:58 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Rohan Pandithakorralage

When the work done by a manager is carefully analysed, it will be clear that it consists of actions aimed at resolving problems and actions taken which lead to the creation of new values. This forms the foundation for improvement and renovation of work in an organisation.

When something is to be improved or renovated in a workplace it is first necessary to consider what that change is and what needs to be done. A manager must not only perform his or her job in a creative manner with his or her sense of problem awareness, but must also encourage subordinates to their own sense of problem awareness. This will help subordinates to enhance their creativity and thereby achieve the goals of the organisation in an efficient manner.

Ensuring continuity and growth

The term ‘business is constantly changing’ is not foreign to us anymore and as a result Sri Lankan businesses adapt various measures to ensure continuity and growth. In this context the manager must be able to grasp trends and changes in society, or anticipate such dangers in advance so as to lead to the “settling of problems” and the “creation of new values”.

There is a huge problem if one says that there are no problems in one’s organisation. Even if a manager is convinced that his/her department is running smoothly, the manager must explore all possibilities of potential problem areas and situations.

Managers are duty bound to prevent problems and resolve them if and when they do arise. There is a new performance management thought where it is argued that a manager’s performance is also evaluated based on his/her ability to identify potential problems and take preventive measures.

Problem awareness

There are many types of problems in the workplace. An organisation generally progress mainly due to there being problems. This is because if there were no problems it would not be necessary to improve innovate or create. Therefore a manager must at all times have a strong sense of problem awareness.

Problem awareness is a frame of mind of always seeking forward looking stances and not being content with things as they are (challenging the status quo). Problem-awareness could be defined as sensitivity for risks, threats and opportunities etc of an organisation and a sense of the persons concerned for countering such risks, threats and opportunities. The manager must have a very strong will to actively go in search of problems in the workplace and to resolve the problems.

A manager needs to cultivate the subordinates to raise the problems awareness by:

=Giving related information

=Freely talking to subordinates about the problems of the organisation

=Involving subordinates in the policy development

=Showing predictions for the future of the organisation

=Giving study themes

=Requesting subordinates to explore problem areas

On the other hand, the manager should try to improve his or her own problem awareness by developing an intense sense of problem awareness and spreading it to others around the workplace. He should also act as the leader in problem awareness and implementation and seek to develop him or herself towards enhancing his or her insights into things.

Problems, like humans, are not all the same and often problems are unique. Most problem areas consist of things which have not been experienced by the manager in the past and most likely things which are met for the very first time.

There are many problems which cannot be addressed purely with past experience and knowledge. One way of looking at problems is to look at in the manner in which these problems arise and are recognised, and therefore can be categorised into the following main three types:

(a) Instances where a problem has already occurred (fire-fighting type);

(b) Instances where a problem is identified from a ‘should be state’ (Unearthing type);

(c) Instance where future is predicted and problem is foretold before it takes place (foretell) type.

The fire-fighting problems require some action to solve them, as the term implies. Once the causes are determined, the problem owner should act upon it. This type of problem can be grasped even without any “problem awareness”. For example, in a factory floor if a worker is absent, the production supervisor needs to allocate a substitute to perform that function.

In the ‘unearthing type,’ the present status is known, but the status that should be is yet to be discovered or must be analysed and determined thereafter. Some of the frequent comments in solving these types of problems would be “by improving this aspect of production in this manner, costs could be reduced further” or “if the plucking of the tea leaves were improved, the quality and prices can be increased”.

And in the case of ‘foretell’ types, one would hear statements as “leaving factory as it is for another year will result in a future loss” or “not doing the scheduled maintenance work will cause more downtime in the future”. It is necessary to anticipate what problems may arise in search of a given objective. One requires high sensitivity or sharper skills in detecting problems of the ‘foretell’ type.

Generally minor improvements must be left to the initiative of subordinates (fire-fighting type). The major improvements and changes should be the responsibility of the manager. Without such leadership of the manager an organisation cannot expect to achieve success and continuity.

To this effect it is very important for managers and subordinates to have the right attitude towards problem awareness. The manager and the subordinate should cultivate an attitude towards problems in the fashion of facing challenges.

Usually, in organisations problems are viewed in a negative fashion. Instead people should be trained to view problems as challenges. When that attitude is formed, the morale of the workplace improves and thereby leads to high organisational productivity.

(The writer is Past President and Member of the Association of Human Resource Professionals.)