How to Solve Your Most Difficult Leadership and Talent Challenges

Guest post
from Stephen Shapiro:

To find better
solutions to your most difficult business problems, paradoxically, you don’t
want o focus on solutions.

Instead you
want to make sure you are asking the right questions. Changing the question
changes the range of possible solutions.

Changing Just
One Word Can Change Your Solutions

If your
challenge is, “How can we
hire the right talent?”, you might put your
energies into time-consuming campus outreach programs, complicated recruitment
campaigns, or expensive technology.

But changing
the question to, “How can we
retain the right talent?” may shift your
focus to internal motivation and performance management strategies.

Simply changing
one word yields a completely different set of answers.

You could
change it again to, “How can we
develop the right talent?” Now we are
looking at leadership opportunities that might not have been previously considered.

investing in developing solutions and strategies to your problems, first make
sure you are moving in the right direction.

Be More
Specific to Reduce Waste

problem-solving, it is common to start off with an opportunity that is too
broad. When we ask broad questions, we invite a lot of wasted energy. When
asking the question, “How can I improve the business?”, (the default question
associated with most suggestion boxes), you could get literally hundreds or
thousands of possible answers.

In fact, over
99% of the ideas submitted to most suggestion boxes are low value and are not
implemented. This wastes the time of those who submit the ideas and those who
have to evaluate the duds.

But if you make
the problem statement more specific, you focus people on what matters most. 

Going back to
the original statement: “How can we hire the right talent?” What does “right”
mean? Maybe the question could be, “How can we hire for unique skills that make
our products differentiating?”

This now
focuses your efforts on a specific skillset. Of course, it might lead you to
ask the question, “What differentiates our products from the competition?”
Answering this gives you deeper insights into your business and the people that
are required to support it.

Being More Abstract Can Increase Creativity

Although we
often start with broad problem statements, there are times when we are too specific.
Either our focus is so specific that it limits our ability to find solutions.
Or in some cases our questions are really just solutions masquerading as

I remember a
client who was focused on, “How can we use 360-degree feedback to improve

Their myopic
focus on this one tool limited their ability to “see” other leadership
development solutions.

The broader
question might be, “How can we improve performance?” 360-degree feedback was
too specific.

This then
forced them to ask, “What is the performance issue we need to solve?” After
some analysis, they determined that the issue was a silo mentality within the
company. When they shifted the question to, “How can we break down silos in our
organization?”, they found a wider range of solutions. As it turns out,
360-degree feedback was not part of the approach.

Our Best
Solutions are Often Invisible

The questions
we ask impact the solutions that are visible. Subtle changes to the problem
statement can reveal solutions that were previously hidden.

Or to
paraphrase a quote that is attributed to Albert Einstein, “If I had an hour to
save the world, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute
finding solutions.” From my experience, most organizations are spending 60
minutes solving problems that are unimportant or irrelevant.

When everyone
in your organization learns how to powerfully reframe business problems, you
will get better results, faster, with lower risk. It’s the simplest tool you
have to find the best solutions that will grow your business.

For over 20
Stephen Shapiro has presented his provocative
strategies on innovation to audiences in 50 countries. During his 15-year
tenure with the consulting firm Accenture, he led a 20,000-person innovation
practice. He is the author of six books, including his latest:
Invisible Solutions:
25 Lenses that Reframe and Help Solve Difficult Business Problems.
Personality Poker® system has been used around the world to create
high-performing innovation teams. In 2015 he was inducted into the Speaker Hall
of Fame.