Solving the problem of problem-solving on the sales floor
It may well be true that in today’s information environment, in which there are so many answers at the tips of our fingers, many young people are simply not in the habit of thinking on their feet. Without a lot of experience puzzling through problems, it should be no surprise that Gen Zers (second wave Millennials, born 1990-2000) are often puzzled when they encounter unanticipated problems.
Here’s the thing: Nine out of 10 times, you don’t want your youngest, least experienced employees on the front lines to make important decisions on the basis of their own judgment anyway, especially not if they could instead rely on the accumulated experience of the organization.
The reality is that most of the problems new young employees are likely to encounter in the workplace should not require them to make judgment calls. Most of the problems they encounter are probably regularly recurring problems — even though the young employee in question may have no experience with the particular problem at hand. Nonetheless, the problem has occurred before and been solved before, probably many times over. Very few of the problems they encounter should be difficult to anticipate.
Think about it: How many problems do your new young employees encounter that haven’t already been solved before?
The key to teaching anybody the basics of problem-solving is to teach them to anticipate the most common recurring problems and prepare them with ready-made solutions:
- First, they will become familiar with commonly recurring problems. They will therefore be more likely to try to help prevent those problems and also be less often surprised when those problems do arise.
- Second, they will build up a repertoire of ready-made solutions so there will be a bunch of problems they can solve without having to chase anybody down. They will have the solution right there in their back pocket.
- Third, from learning and implementing ready-made solutions, they will learn a lot about the anatomy of a good solution. This will put them in a much better position to borrow from ready-made solutions and improvise when they do encounter the rare unanticipated problem.
Ready-made solutions are just best practices that have been captured, turned into standard operating procedures, and deployed throughout the organization to employees for use as job-aids.
Do you agree that the majority of “problem-solving” issues are caused by a lack of preparation? What kind of job aids should retailers have at their disposal to help employees deal with recurring problems and not have to “problem solve” anew each time?