Organization and Self-Management

22 Effective Problem Solving and Decision Making

Types of Decision Makers

Problem solving and decision making belong together. You cannot solve a problem without making a decision. There are two main types of decision makers. Some people use a systematic, rational approach. Others are more intuitive. They go with their emotions or a gut feeling about the right approach. They may have highly creative ways to address the problem, but cannot explain why they have chosen this approach.

Six Problem-Solving Steps

The most effective method uses both rational and intuitive or creative approaches. There are six steps in the process:

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Search for alternatives
  3. Weigh the alternatives
  4. Make a choice
  5. Implement the choice
  6. Evaluate the results and, if necessary, start the process again

Identify the problem

To solve a problem, you must first determine what the problem actually is. You may think you know, but you need to check it out. Sometimes, it is easy to focus on symptoms, not causes. You use a rational approach to determine what the problem is. The questions you might ask include:

  • What have I (or others) observed?
  • What was I (or others) doing at the time the problem occurred?
  • Is this a problem in itself or a symptom of a deeper, underlying problem?
  • What information do I need?
  • What have we already tried to address this problem?

For example, the apprentice you supervise comes to you saying that the electric warming oven is not working properly. Before you call a repair technician, you may want to ask a few questions. You may want to find out what the apprentice means by “not working properly.” Does he or she know how to operate the equipment? Did he or she check that the equipment was plugged in? Was the fuse or circuit breaker checked? When did it last work?

You may be able to avoid an expensive service call. At the very least, you will be able to provide valuable information to the repair technician that aids in the troubleshooting process.

Of course, many of the problems that you will face in the kitchen are much more complex than a malfunctioning oven. You may have to deal with problems such as:

  • Discrepancies between actual and expected food costs
  • Labour costs that have to be reduced
  • Lack of budget to complete needed renovations in the kitchen
  • Disputes between staff

However, the basic problem-solving process remains the same even if the problems identified differ. In fact, the more complex the problem is, the more important it is to be methodical in your problem-solving approach.

Search for alternatives

It may seem obvious what you have to do to address the problem. Occasionally, this is true, but most times, it is important to identify possible alternatives. This is where the creative side of problem solving really comes in.

Brainstorming with a group can be an excellent tool for identifying potential alternatives. Think of as many possibilities as possible. Write down these ideas, even if they seem somewhat zany or offbeat on first impression. Sometimes really silly ideas can contain the germ of a superb solution. Too often, people move too quickly into making a choice without really considering all of the options. Spending more time searching for alternatives and weighing their consequences can really pay off.

Weigh the alternatives

Once a number of ideas have been generated, you need to assess each of them to see how effective they might be in addressing the problem. Consider the following factors:

  • Impact on the organization
  • Effect on public relations
  • Impact on employees and organizational climate
  • Cost
  • Legality
  • Ethics of actions
  • Whether this course is permitted under collective agreements
  • Whether this idea can be used to build on another idea

Make a choice

Some individuals and groups avoid making decisions. Not making a decision is in itself a decision. By postponing a decision, you may eliminate a number of options and alternatives. You lose control over the situation. In some cases, a problem can escalate if it is not dealt with promptly. For example, if you do not handle customer complaints promptly, the customer is likely to become even more annoyed. You will have to work much harder to get a satisfactory solution.

Implement the decision

Once you have made a decision, it must be implemented. With major decisions, this may involve detailed planning to ensure that all parts of the operation are informed of their part in the change. The kitchen may need a redesign and new equipment. Employees may need additional training. You may have to plan for a short-term closure while the necessary changes are being made. You will have to inform your customers of the closure.

Evaluate the outcome

Whenever you have implemented a decision, you need to evaluate the results. The outcomes may give valuable advice about the decision-making process, the appropriateness of the choice, and the implementation process itself. This information will be useful in improving the company’s response the next time a similar decision has to be made.

Creative Thinking

Your creative side is most useful in identifying new or unusual alternatives. Too often, you can get stuck in a pattern of thinking that has been successful in the past. You think of ways that you have handled similar problems in the past. Sometimes this is successful, but when you are faced with a new problem or when your solutions have failed, you may find it difficult to generate new ideas.

If you have a problem that seems to have no solution, try these ideas to “unfreeze” your mind:

  • Relax before trying to identify alternatives.
  • Play “what if” games with the problem. For example, What if money was no object? What if we could organize a festival? What if we could change winter into summer?
  • Borrow ideas from other places and companies. Trade magazines might be useful in identifying approaches used by other companies.
  • Give yourself permission to think of ideas that seem foolish or that appear to break the rules. For example, new recipes may come about because someone thought of new ways to combine foods. Sometimes these new combinations appear to break rules about complementary tastes or break boundaries between cuisines from different parts of the world. The results of such thinking include the combined bar and laundromat and the coffee places with Internet access for customers.
  • Use random inputs to generate new ideas. For example, walk through the local shopping mall trying to find ways to apply everything you see to the problem.
  • Turn the problem upside down. Can the problem be seen as an opportunity? For example, the road outside your restaurant that is the only means of accessing your parking lot is being closed due to a bicycle race. Perhaps you could see the bicycle race as an opportunity for business rather than as a problem.

License

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Effective Problem Solving and Decision Making by The BC Cook Articulation Committee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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