Big Problems, Small Solutions

Why do we always think a big problem requires big solutions? With this mindset we can easily be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem and miss the small solution that can make a big difference. Brothers Dan and Chip Heath, in their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, talk about this phenomenon. Their observation is that, “Big problems are rarely solved with commensurately big solutions. Instead, they are most often solved by a sequence of small solutions, sometimes over decades.” Most of our problems in organizations do not require decades to improve, but they do take a strategic approach. We have to resist the temptation to put band-aids on complex issues and take a systems view to explore the multiple sources contributing to the problem. In a recent job I was tasked with solving a performance problem with call center agents. Month after month a group of agents fell below quality expectations. I brought in the experts – Quality Analysts, Team Managers, and Trainers – and asked each of them what they thought the problem was and how to solve it. All of them had a diferent perspective and all of them was right. If I had only listened to one group and not the other, small solutions would have been missed. The solution was not a large-scale training program, but a multi-faceted one that included targeted coaching, group activities, and repositioning the agents nearer the help they needed to succeed. It was a big problem with a lot of attention from senior management, but the solutions were small and organic.

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