Are You a Problem Solver?
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How do you define your company’s mission?
ANSWER: A, B or C. OK, we started with an easy one. How you define your company’s performance will depend on the business you are in, and any of the goals listed are perfectly acceptable. But those are simply targets, says Bharat Anand, Ph.D., professor of strategy at Harvard Business School and author of The Content Trap: A Strategist’s Guide to Digital Change (Random House, 2016). “How you get there is the harder and more important question,” he says. “Once you have a clear sense of your target or mission, what is the strategy by which you move toward it?”
2. When defining your business’s mission, it is important to be as simple and limited as possible. That way, there’s no question where you’re headed.
ANSWER: False. These days, with business changing so quickly, the best strategy may be to define your mission as expansively as possible, says Anand. He cites the music industry as an example. “This industry got decimated,” he says, as CD s ales went to nearly nothing. “If music companies had defined themselves as being in the business of selling CDs, they were doomed. But if they defined themselves as providers of music, there were many more revenue streams. For instance, the demand for broadband Internet exploded because people wanted to download music. Internet access providers were doing well just as music companies were doing badly.” Concert tickets went way up in price too, he says. “The concert used to be advertisement to buy the CD. Now free or cheap music becomes the advertisement for you to go to live concert. The business relationship has flipped.” And those companies that defined themselves broadly can stay in the game and continue to prosper.
3. How do you define your market?
ANSWER: Either A or B. This is another easy one. There’s no right answer as to how to define your market. The key, says Anand, is to have clarity on it. To do so, your company has to answer these questions carefully: What customers are we going after? What is the scope of our business? Does it make most sense to limit ourselves to a geographical area such as Southwest Florida? And, as we discussed in question 2, remember to leave some space for possible expansion.
4. Creating the best quality product is always the way to go.
ANSWER: False. Surprise! It may not be worth the expense and labor to create your highest-quality product. We all know that time and resources are finite. But sometimes we forget to weigh that in our decisions. Be sure to assess how much of your resources will be used in creating something, as compared to what you stand to get back in return. Although it may sound counterintuitive, it may not make sense to strive for highest quality every time.
5. If the company knows it will have some serious competition in the next few years, it should:
ANSWER: A. This is the time when it is probably prudent to launch new products, even if they eat up some of the market of your core products in the short run, says Anand. “When you look three months, six months or one year out, it will look like a hit to the bottom line, so it’s hard to take,” he says. But it will likely help you in the long run, keeping your company in the game as opposed to staying static. “Don’t let finance drive strategy,” Anand says. “Strategy should drive finance.”
6. The best way to get the team thinking about new approaches is:
ANSWER: B. Although A sounds like a good way to hear from employees, it may lead to initiatives driving strategy, Anand says, as opposed to strategy driving initiatives. “The initiatives that emerge from having everyone pitch in may look good on the surface but when you put them together it’s not clear how they add up to something coherent. They might even be inconsistent with another.” A product group may want to launch their product in the fall while marketing thinks spring is the ideal time, for example. Again, it’s smart to have a clear strategy and let that drive all your decisions.
7. I know I’ve made a good decision for my business when:
ANSWER: B. Strange as it may sound, a good choice is not always dependent on a good outcome. The bottom line, says Anand, is that, “a good decision is aligned with everything else in the organization.” There may be a time when you make a decision that goes against your company strategy and you just happen to make a large profit, see huge sales or otherwise register a win. But in the long run, it’s always best to stick with your well-thought-out strategy. And by the same token, you may have made a good decision that doesn’t work out in the end. These are difficult to grapple with, but a sound strategy is to have alignment within the organization.
8. Once I have looked at all the data logically, and compared it against my company’s strategy, I can make the best decision.
ANSWER: False. The best decision makers take logic as well as intuition, or gut feeling, into consideration, says Abbott. You can’t succeed going strictly one way or the other. “Blending the two is the best way to go,” she says.
9. The best way to make a final decision that benefits the organization is:
ANSWER: D. It’s problematic to have too little input as well as too much. While organizations are striving to be more collaborative these days, a truly collaborative decision is just a compromise, which is likely not the best decision, says Abbott. “I do think there needs to be someone who has final say. The challenge is that person truly has to be open and can’t make the decision just based on what they wanted to do in the first place.”
10. The best way to get feedback from the group is:
ANSWER: B. “Be sure to get everything out on flip-charts, whiteboards or sticky notes on a board,” says Abbott. “When we write, and see something visually, we’re better able to see things we can’ t hear. Most of us aren’t as good listeners as we think we are.” This is a step that many organizations skip, Abbott says, but they do so at their peril. It helps us get out of the noise in our heads, she adds, and help foster clarity.
0-3 correct: Your problem solving is a problem! Try to get some mentoring in this area.
4-6 correct: You’re getting there. Take a hard look at where you’re slipping up, and work on improving for next time.
7-9 correct: You’re a problem-solving guru. Proceed directly to the corner office.