We all are faced with a myriad of business problems that every organization wants to be solved quickly and easily. We know not every problem is the same, and we know that some problems are more complex than others. We also know that some problems might be expensive to solve, and some might take a lot of time and resources.
However, many organizations actually hinder their ability to solve these problems by defining the problem incorrectly, and inherently, defining an incorrect solution. By not effectively identifying the right problems upfront, organizations can waste excessive time, resources, money, and worst of all – never achieve the outcomes they’re seeking.
For example, a client we were working with had developed an awards program for faculty, students, and alumni. The goal of the program was to recognize stellar achievements in entrepreneurship. Following the first year of the program, applications were few, non-diverse, and often not representative of candidates the organization knew were outstanding.
They assumed the problem was awareness – that people didn’t know about the program, and therefore didn’t apply. The thought was to amplify marketing and communications, creating mailers, sending announcements, conducting promotions, and trying to build an ‘eliteness’ brand around the awards themselves. Even though these initiatives might generate more interest, the actual problem was much more downstream.
First, the application for the award was very long and required an extensive amount of information (financial statements, etc.). Second, if someone wanted to nominate a person for an award, they needed to provide the same information, which they likely would not have access to. Third, while the award recipients were measured on their impact and level of achievement, the application insinuated that financial growth and organizational size were equally important, if not more.
In short, the application process itself was deterring people from applying or nominating candidates, rather than awareness alone. If the organization had focused first on awareness, it would have brought more people to a process that was cumbersome and restrictive. The problem was incorrectly defined and incorrectly prioritized.
So instead of focusing on awareness building, the team redesigned and rearchitected the application form. They reduced the number of required fields and made the financial data an optional upload that also could be done at a later time. They also created a separate micro-application, to enable persons to make a nomination, where the staff would follow up with the candidate and walk them through the process. In addition, they expanded the scope of the awards, enabling not just entrepreneurs but intrapreneurs to be candidates as well. The changes are also being tested over the coming months to identify new roadblocks and further opportunities for refinement.
When facing a business problem, it is critically important to ensure you’re not only identifying the right problem to tackle but in what order they should be addressed. There are many solutions to a single problem, and your team should stay open to new ways of looking at tackling them. The most common and most obvious answers aren’t always the best. By thinking critically, you’ll likely uncover not only a new approach but maybe a new starting point altogether.
About the Author
Andrea Olson is a speaker, author, behavioral scientist, and customer-centricity expert. As the CEO of Pragmadik, she helps organizations of all sizes, from small businesses to Fortune 500, and has served as an outside consultant for EY and McKinsey. Andrea is the author of The Customer Mission: Why it’s time to cut the $*&% and get back to the business of understanding customers and No Disruptions: The future for mid-market manufacturing.