The greater complexity, uncertainty, volatility, and demand for transparency have led business partners to seek out Communications’ support. As a result, Communications is being asked to do more and is consulted more consistently. Problem is, comms hasn’t grown up providing this type of support. In essence, we want you to go from a reactive function to one where you proactively shape the strategy of the business. However, in order to become this integral thought-partner, you need a systematic approach to make this a successful transition. Fortunately, we have just the tool you need to get started, with many thanks to Toyota and their problem solving worksheet.
What’s interesting about this problem solving process is that Toyota wanted to incorporate the same process that they use on the assembly line and apply it internally to all of their functions. You can imagine that there may have been some skepticism by the communications team on adopting this new process – and you’d be right. But in the end, the comms team came around and was able to see the value that was added by including this process while working with their business partners was well worth the effort. Let’s take a look at the steps of this process, which I’m going to call “5 plus 1,” and I’m not talking United Nations negotiations.
1. Clarify Stated Problem
Once you and your business partners have identified that a problem exists, it’s now imperative to make sure that you’re both on the same page. By clarifying the problem, you’ll be able to assess the partners’ desired business outcome and understand the current state of performance and work to fill this gap.
2. Redefine the Problem
Something I like to do when tasked with solving a problem is to try to break it down into as many smaller pieces as I can. The logic being that it’s easier to solve several smaller problems individually than one big problem all at once. Well the same holds true in this step where you and your business partners need to decide which sub-problem is significant and addressable. This also helps to ensure that your skill sets are properly aligned with a problem that you can actually solve and is worth your time.
3. Set a Target Outcome
Now that you and your business partners have identified, clarified, and redefined the problem, it is now appropriate to set a measurable goal that links to the sub-problem. This is an important step for the communications team because it will allow for you to track your progress to show your business partners that you’re a valuable problem solving asset.
4. Analyze the Root Cause
This is an integral step in this process and efforts should be spent on root causing the selected sub-problem. The purpose of this step is to make sure you fully think through the sub-problem because you want to make sure that you are attacking the cause of the problem rather than a symptom of the cause. You can imagine that if you only focus on the symptoms that it’s only a matter of time before the same problem resurfaces.
5. Develop Solutions
Now that you and your team have gone through the above steps, work with your business partners to brainstorm potential solutions. Once you have identified a few options, it’s now time to agree on the one solution that will be implemented.
+1 Implement and Track Progress
This last step is my “plus 1” that I mentioned earlier. Make sure you track the progress of your solution, to make sure that it’s actually working. Furthermore, this goes back to our step of setting a target outcome because this will allow you to see overtime how well the solution worked. Also, should you notice that your selected solution is not working, you now have the opportunity to inform your business partners that you need to change course.
I hope you can look through these steps and see the real value that can be added to the business. While this process is more or less targeted to larger concerns, there isn’t any reason why you should ignore utilizing it for your everyday tasks – if nothing else, it’s good practice and will get you thinking like the consultative business partner you want to become.
CEC related resources:
- Consultative Partnership with the Business
- Boosting Communications’ Value to Business Partners: Consultative Problem-Solving Process (Toyota)
- Individual Development Plan: The Consultant
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