You’ve been working with your small marketing team on a pitch for a client’s forthcoming new product. This is your first time leading the team’s efforts, and over the last few weeks you’ve really crafted a masterful pitch that you can’t wait to show the client in just a couple days. But then your boss informs you of a problem: the client just called to inform you that they’ve delayed that product’s release, switching it with the release of another new product you’ve barely heard of but now must pitch. And if that weren’t challenging enough, this new pitch still needs to happen just two days from now. So what do you do?
The answer is, you problem-solve. This skill that we’ve been trained to develop since we were children isn’t just useful for algebra. Problem-solving is useful, necessary even, for any job you’ll take in the workplace.
In many ways, problem-solving in the workplace is like problem-solving in math: you have a problem and you must find a way to solve it, armed only with the skills, knowledge and experiences you’ve acquired to date. Within the workplace, however, problem-solving often proves more difficult than on the pages of a math set. For unlike math, in the workplace, there is no singular and clear-cut answer to a problem. Rather, there are many solutions that may work and even more ways to achieve these solutions. What’s right and wrong isn’t always cut and dry until after the fact.
Further, unlike math, problem-solving in the workplace requires you to communicate and work with others to achieve your desired end. And as anyone who’s worked in a team structure knows, this can either be easier or more difficult than working alone based on the team dynamic. Problem-solving in the workplace is navigating all this and more to achieve a desired end result within the desired timeframe.
Our introductory scenario at the beginning of this article.
Possible approach: Don’t start from scratch! Just because you now have to market a different product doesn’t mean you can’t use any of the work you did during the previous weeks. Rather, this work will help you. Work with your team to examine how the former and new products relate. Based on the similarities and differences, you and your team can simply alter your previous pitch and tailor it to this new product.
A meeting at which you’re giving a presentation got moved from next Monday to tomorrow — Friday. Not only you can no longer prepare the presentation over the weekend as you’d been planning to, but you worry if you’ll be able to prepare because you're swamped for the rest of today and tomorrow before the meeting.
Possible approach: There are a number of things you can do here. First and foremost, however, you should take just a few minutes to examine what needs to be done before the meeting and prioritize the tasks' importance. Perhaps there are other things you can delay for the weekend and next week so that you can prepare for the meeting. If not, maybe you shoot an email to those who will be in the meeting noting how your presentation may be short and less in-depth than typical due to the rescheduling. And if that’s not acceptable, you may just have to bite the bullet and stay up late to crank it out.
Due to some of a client’s special requests, your boss has given you and each of your team members a number of extra things to do. The problem is, you have no idea how to do two of the four extra tasks she’s assigned you.
Possible approach: See if there are other teammates who aren’t super confident about fulfilling their extra tasks. Perhaps you're more confident about their tasks and they yours such that you can work together to get them done — the keyword here being “together,” so long as deadlines permit of course. As opposed to merely doing each other tasks, it’s advisable that you each teach each other how to do the tasks you are more comfortable with, therein increasing each other’s skill levels and workplace versatility.
Other skills, of course, contribute to your success as a problem-solver. Here are some problem-solving skills you can include on your resume.
This is perhaps the most important soft skill in existence. Most problems occur in the first place because of either a lack of communication or miscommunication. So if you know how to communicate well, not only can you work with others to overcome any obstacles, but you can prevent many problems from occurring in the first place.
Communication isn’t possible if you don’t actively listen to those trying to convey information to you. If you can listen to truly understand instead of merely to respond, you have an invaluable skill that will be highly useful in the workplace.
Whether you’re the star player or a benchwarmer on your team, it’s important that you be dependable. If people know they can count on you, communicating with them to solve any problems that may arise will be that much easier.
In order to problem-solve, you need to be able to analyze. And not just data. You’ll need to analyze situations, team dynamics and more. The better you can analyze the problem, the better you can solve it efficiently.
Being able to do the necessary research to solve problems that arise is vital. Whether it’s researching a client’s history and/or their current needs, researching market trends or researching any host of numerous other things, having this skill will only help you solve future problems.
The ability to think outside the box is often underappreciated in school, but it’s extremely valued afterward. Some problems can only be solved through unorthodox methods.
The ability to build and manage a team is an asset to both an individual and their employer. Not every problem can be solved by one person, and not every person can build and manage a team.
If you can manage your time well, you can prioritize and take care of multiple fires that others can’t. Though a popular skill, it’s still not too common of one. So if you possess it, make sure to include it on your resume.
Sometimes, hard decisions have to be made. And not just at the outset. A quarterback isn’t a true quarterback if he doesn’t have the ability to analyze situations and make necessary audibles at the line. If you can make decisions under pressure and in crucial situations, say so. Because not everyone can.
We’ve heard about problem-solving since we were kids. And until we die, we’ll need to make use of our ability to do so. Especially in the workplace. Armed with the information in this article, hopefully, that’s a problem that’s now easier to solve.
J.P. Pressley is a writer, entrepreneur, filmmaker, and an asthmatic former two-sport college athlete (basketball and track). Is he a jockey-nerd or a nerdy-jock? The world may never know. You can learn more about him at his personal website.
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