Problem Solving – Get the Facts

When faced with a problem our natural tendency is to ignore it. We reason that if we leave it alone it will work itself out or simply go away. The sad truth is problems seldom work themselves out. They grow and fester, becoming more serious and requiring a lot of time and effort that could have been avoided if dealt with up front.

So, you think you have a problem developing in your work place with one or more of your employees, what do you do? Before you jump to conclusions you have to determine if you really have an issue developing. Is it real or is it just a misconception of what is occurring. There are no set rules to follow but one thing is sure, you have to do it.

Here are a few guidelines to help with conducting your investigation.

The first step is to get the facts about what is going on and how serious is it. This requires you to investigate and review the facts. You can’t rely on “hear-say” or secondhand information but you have to verify all the information you gather.

The investigation can take one of two forms or a combination of both. The first is an informal investigation and the second is a formal investigation. How you conduct each is handled differently and varies in the number of people involved.

The informal investigation can be used primarily to determine if there is an issue that needs to be addressed. It is usually used in the very early stages of determining the nature of a perceived problem. This is a hands on investigation and should be handled by yourself and involving few other people.

Your primary tools for conducting this investigation are observation and listening. You need to observe the operation and employees to see if the problem behavior is occurring. If you have secondhand information use it as a guide as to what to look for. But, you must be able to verify through direct observation or by the direct results of the behavior that the problem behavior is occurring.

The next tool is to listen to what is being said by your employees. Learn to read between the lines and separate fact from fiction. This is not a question and answer session conducted like an interrogation but should happen through casual conversation. A good listener can take the parts of the different statements and paint a picture of what is going on. (For tips on good listening skills, look for my previous article series on listening.)

The second type is the formal investigation. This usually begins once you have determined there is a problem developing. The three main tools of this form of investigation are, observation, reviewing the records and interviewing the affected employees.

As in the informal investigation; observation is a critical tool in determining the corrective action needed. In the formal part of the investigation a more in-depth observation needs to occur. You are looking for patterns and results of how the issue is affecting the employees and their work performance?

Reviewing the records can provide a lot of information to help verify the problem and potential solution. Information that can be gleaned from production and employee records can help determine how long the problem has been going on and if it getting worse. Not only are the records of the problem employee reviewed but also those of the entire work group. This can help determine if the work behavior is an isolated incident or is it part of a more systemic problem.

The interview part of the investigation is the hardest to accomplish but when done right can lead to the root cause of the problem and help develop corrective action steps to solve the issue. It must be thorough and impartial. You can’t allow preconceived ideas about the problem or the individual affect your ability to get the facts.

Once you have conducted your investigation you need to organize the facts of what is going on. Eliminate useless data and focus on what is relevant. You should be able to paint a true picture of what is happening and what the real problem is.

One side note, as in all areas of business, document, document and document. Take good notes and keep all the relevant data organized.

Now that you have all the facts you can develop and implement a corrective action plan to solve the problem.

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