“Each problem that I solved became a rule, which served afterwards to solve other problems.”
~ Rene Descartes
Critical Thinking and the Statement of Your Problem
Sally had just received a warning that for the third week in a row she had missed her sales targets and was required to attend a coaching session. Her boss had hired me as the outsourced sales manager because as she put it, “I can monitor sales results, but I don’t seem to be able to change them. I need someone to train and manage my team for me, without having a full time employee.”
Sally was feeling defensive when we started our session. She had a list of reasons why she hadn’t achieved her targets:
- Offices were closed and people working from home;
- Economy was tight and uncertain;
- Everyone else’s sales were also lower;
- Struggles of working from home;
- Personal issues…
It all added up to: “None of this is my fault.”
I could see her point. Actually, that was a large part of the problem. She was bringing her emotional perspective into the problem rather than thinking critically about what her real problem was, and how to solve it.
Andrew had a similar problem except, in his case as the business owner, it wasn’t a question of an external reprimand that kept the problem top-of-mind. The problem was reflected in his bank balance and cash flow issues. He came to me and said, “The clients I get argue over every item on the bill and there just aren’t enough of them to cover my costs and make this worthwhile! What am I going to do?”
Notice that Andrew, as a business owner, was looking for a solution, where Sally (the employee) was mostly complaining about how unfair it was to be held to account for her performance in tough times.
BUT… They were both looking in the wrong place for the solution.
Exploring Solutions Means Analysing the Problem
In another blog IF You Can’t Solve a Problem with the Same Thinking that Created It, THEN… I talked about the reality that you cannot solve a problem with the same level of thinking that created it. In this one, we’ll dive down into specifics.
When I asked Sally some questions about her situation and her sales results I discovered some interesting information.
- She only knew about her sales rates when she received the weekly sales statistics;
- She was feeling somewhat isolated and abandoned working from home and missed the face-to-face interaction and daily encounters of office life;
- She had no clue how any of her colleagues were doing;
- She had a lot of things going on in her life at home;
However, the key to her problem wasn’t any of those things…
The real issue lay with the actions she was taking (or not taking) on a daily basis which were reflected in her sales results. That gave us a clear plan of action… IF she wanted to change because the problems we needed to address were UPSTREAM from the presenting problem of too few closed sales.
Andrew’s problem was very similar, he started out looking for ways to remove clients’ resistance to paying appropriate prices for his services and realised that the problem lay in his process for attracting clients.
Openness to Change
You’ve probably already identified the real challenge that comes when you correctly identify the problem and track it to its source: Resistance to change!
When I talked to Sally and her boss (and the other team members) about ways of highlighting both activity and outcomes so they had ongoing feedback, they weren’t sure about that kind of change.
We plotted the sales process and highlighted the activities that preceded the sale – looking at percentages and numbers: the change felt uncomfortable.
We talked about alternatives for creating interactions while working out of the office, and different possibilities for making sales presentations. There’s already so much change that we can handle any more…
Andrew had a similar response.
He had a steady stream of clients coming from his existing efforts (even if they did all pressure him about prices, complain constantly, and pay late). He was afraid that any change would upset that balance.
Eventually, they both agreed that the price of stasis was higher than the price of change so they took action.
Formulating an Effective Solution
In the process of working through this, both Sally and Andrew learned how to use some important questions and critical thinking tools that they could use in other situations.
The process of digging beneath the superficial presenting problem to find out more about it became a rule that they were able to apply to refine their approach to personal problems and other business problems.
Realising that the problem they were facing might not be the problem at all, but just a symptom of another problem provided a whole new approach.
Confident Conversion: 90 days to More Cash, More Clients, More Impact
Some coaches like to view their client’s problems as discrete issues to be solved one by one. My approach is different. I like to empower my clients by giving them the tools and skills to apply the process from one problem to another.
In high school trigonometry, I was stumped by transformations.
When my teacher helped me work out an equation using cos, sine, and tan and explain how all the equivalencies worked for one problem, I was stumped when the next one looked different. It was years before I realised that my problem wasn’t that I couldn’t do the mathematics, it was that I didn’t have the right questions to step me far enough back to identify the core similarities and apply a process to them.
Sure, some kids could instinctively see the patterns and work out the transformations, but there were plenty like me who couldn’t do that.
One of the goals of my Confident Conversion: 90 days to More Cash, More Clients, More Impact program, is to give you the tools to solve the business and career problems by sharpening your critical thinking skills. You may choose to have a coach as well (I highly recommend that), but you will also find that suddenly, when you solve ONE problem, you can see the way to solve a handful of OTHER problems that you had thought were unrelated.
If you’d like to learn more about our new self-study program, go to https://bit.ly/CC-90days