The problem with problem-solving

How many times have you solved a problem only to have it resurface weeks or months later? Unfortunately, this happens too often. The problem with problem-solving is that we have a very thin definition of “solved.”

If a problem resurfaces, it was never solved.

So, how can we be sure a problem is solved? I think of this as a two-step process.

First, you must attack the root cause of the real problem, not just the symptoms. Assuming you have sufficiently addressed the root, you can move to phase two; this is the part most people miss.

To exile a problem forever, you must sustain the gains

The world always appears to drift toward disorder. I’m sure there is a law of the universe at play here somewhere. Sustaining activities mitigate this pull toward chaos.

Let me illustrate.

I talked with a business owner who wanted to improve the performance of his front-line employees. His solution was a deep-dive, immersive training experience. Guess what? It worked -- for a while. When performance numbers signaled his success, he mistakenly thought he had won -- problem solved!

Six months later, the problem returned. As he told me the story, he was at a loss regarding what had happened. I asked him if he had added any new front-line associates during the previous six months. He said yes. My follow-up question: Did you provide the same in-depth, intensive training for the new employees that you did for the previous group? His response: No.

In this example, the initial improved performance created a false positive. His problem was not solved. Only when he went back and revamped his new-hire training did the problem evaporate.

The next time you think you’ve found a solution to a problem, ask yourself: What will it take to sustain these gains?


Mark Miller is the best-selling author of six books, an in-demand speaker and the vice president of high performance leadership at Chick-Fil-A. His latest book, "Leaders Made Here," describes how to nurture leaders throughout the organization, from the front lines to the executive ranks and outlines a clear and replicable approach to creating the leadership bench every organization needs.

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