Problem solving

Within life we will always be faced with problems.  They can be as simple as ‘we have run out of milk’ and the solution is equally simple ‘go to the shop and buy some more’.

The issue occurs when we don’t own the problem.  So….. with the milk scenario – ‘we have run out of milk, but it is not my fault because I wasn’t due to buy it this week, so I am not going to do anything about it’.  Possibly a justified reaction, particularly if you are the only person who bothers to buy the milk. However, the result from this action, is that we have no milk.  The problem remains unresolved. Also, the problem gets bigger because it now isn’t just a case of ‘we have no milk’, but now ‘we can’t have a hot drink’ and next ‘we are all very ratty, because we can’t have a hot drink’.

Move this into a work situation and the issues become more complex.  The problems we have are often more complex than running out of milk, but the issue of ownership is the same and the results of us not owning the problem have the same outcome – unresolved.  Even worse, the problem can become compounded.

For example (and this is only an example, not a real situation – we hope!), a parent rings up because they have had a letter stating that they haven’t paid their invoice. However, they are a little put out because they brought a cheque in the week before and gave it to someone (and they can’t remember which member of staff it was).  The person answering the phone is someone from the adult team, but the payment is for a children’s activity programme.  The internal reaction is ‘I am really busy today, this is not my fault, therefore, not my problem’. The external response is ‘Sorry, there is no one in finance or the children’s activity team, can you ring back later’.

Outcome of this phone call, the worker who has answered the phone, breathes a sigh of relief – problem averted, no more time taken up and she/he can get back to what she/he was working on.  Parent leaves with problem given back to him or her, but now the problem has grown larger.  When the parent rings back later, there is every chance that he or she is not going to tolerate any more delay and if the issue remains unresolved, the problem will grow and grow.

In the NHS there is a term called ‘Local Resolution’ and when I had the role of Complaints Convenor this is what we strived for, wherever possible.  A problem that is dealt with straight away, won’t have the opportunity to grow out of proportion.  The problem holder won’t be more stressed than they need to be and the problem solver will spend less time on the issue than they would if it is allowed to grow.

At the point that we receive the problem, it is of no consequence who caused it – it just needs solving.  At a later time, when it has been resolved, we might wish to deal with the root cause so that we ensure that it isn’t repeated, but in the first instance, we need to solve it for the customer (parent, carer or whoever that might be).

Within SoLO, my desire is that every staff member will become the first problem solver for the person who is presenting with the issue, whatever that might be. Firstly, it is the kind thing to do – to care for the person who has the issue and help resolve it. Secondly, it is the most effective thing to do – it saves time in the long run.

It is a clear case of ‘a stitch in time, saves nine’ Something my mother used to quote and we all know that mother knows best!

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