What's your problem?

What's your problem?

This is something that I touched on in my previous blog, i.e. how often as communicators we get asked to fix the wrong problem.

There was a great example of this on the BBC Radio Four Today Programme this morning ( I would offer a link to the replay but I have given up trying to find it on the BBC website - it used to be so easy - what has happened?!!). But never mind, it was in an item that had been prompted by the news that the UK government's 'nudge' unit - more properly called the behavioural insights team -  is going to be made into a mutual organisation. Read more about that in The Guardian here.

The unit is concerned with using psychology to influence behaviour (the item also contained a very good discussion on the ethics of this).   Within the discussion there was an example that I thought really made the point about problem identification and it was to do with loft insulation.  Apparently campaigns that aim to get people to insulate their loft often fail not because of the cost, but because we all have lots of stuff stored in the loft and can't face the hassle of moving it! So actually the problem may not be one of awareness or money, but the prospect of having to sort out lots of junk!

Just last Saturday I was working with the latest CIPR internal communication certificate group on just this topic and we did a great exercise on creative problem solving.  This works in the following way:

1. The problem owner  presents a problem and context and writes the summary using words like “how can I or we…..”

2. Group then asks questions for clarification – BUT avoids offering solutions or making judgments at this stage.

3. Owner answers questions factually, avoiding justifications or defensive statements.

4. After a period of questioning, the group individually writes down their own definition of problem using “how can I or we…”

5. Each definition is written up on flip chart.

6. Problem owner chooses or re-creates a final version.

For example, the initial problem may be given as "senior managers won't provide answers to staff questions quickly enough". In fact, the problem may be that senior managers don't appreciate the importance of employee engagement. (I must confess that I didn't invent this method but I really like it as an exercise.)

Why not try this technique in your team and see it works for you? Getting the problem right not only leads to more effective communication, it can also save a whole lot of time doing something that is never going to work.