Let’s say your company has a problem. You’ve poured time and money into the development of a new product with every expectation it would fly off the shelves. But now that it's finally on the market, it’s falling short of predicted sales. You can’t understand why. You invested in market research, involved cross-functional teams in the ideation process, spent time refining and improving your prototype. You’re confident that what you’ve created is superior to what the competition offers – maybe it’s already proven itself in trials or user tests – and you know its price is positioned realistically.
So how can you explain the product’s disappointing short-term performance?
There are two good ways to get to the bottom of the problem and, hopefully, turn the ship around. You could hire a consultant who may offer new insight on the product and advise your staff on the best way to fix it. Or you could enlist your people to dig deeper into the creation and marketing process and solve the problem themselves. Which path makes the most sense depends on several key factors, but the definitive question to ask yourself is how important it is that your people own the solution and its implementation.
In this article, we’ll explore what it means for your people to own the solution, when it’s crucial and what it can mean for your company’s growth.
Your people are closest to the problem
Lots has been made about the analogy between a company and a human being. Bill Gates has compared a company’s internal communications mechanism to the enigmatic complexity of a human nervous system – every action and directive must be coordinated with efficiency, reliability and speed. Jeff Bezos has said a company’s brand is like a person’s reputation; once tarnished it’s impossible to repair. Others have made comparisons between cash flow and blood circulation, between new talent and oxygen supply, between executive leadership and cognitive abilities. It’s a metaphor that keeps giving.
There’s another way this metaphor is useful: in the discussion of problem-solving. When faced with a personal problem, you can solicit all the advice in the world – you can talk to friends, pay therapists, hash it out with your partner – but, ultimately, the only person who can bring the solution to life is you. You’re the one who will actually activate and implement this solution. Your instincts about its consequences are more informed than anyone else’s, and you’re the only one who will have to live with those consequences every day.
Similarly, your people are experts on your company and the product you’re working on. They know that product inside-out – why every decision was made throughout its development and which ideas didn't come together. They also have an intrinsic sense of company culture and the way things actually work on the ground. They know their colleagues’ specific talents and whose approval and endorsement is needed to keep every ball in the air. With a view of the whole picture, your people are well poised to pursue further user research and discover how the product can be altered and optimized to meet the originally anticipated sales target.
But the question goes beyond your staff's knowledge and abilities. It’s also a matter of respect. Your people show up at work every day and face all kinds of organizational challenges. These challenges are a huge part of their professional lives and they will be directly impacted by outcomes and solutions. If you cut them out of the problem-solving process, they may feel severed from the impact of their own work, a feeling that can breed both apathy and resentment.
People need to know that the work they do is valuable and impactful. When managers give them the autonomy to fix problems themselves, they become increasingly motivated and inspired. They start to feel intrinsically accountable for their responsibilities and take pride in their work. And it’s not just about feelings. Studies have shown repeatedly that employee autonomy has a direct impact on workplace productivity.
Learning in the flow of work
ExperiencePoint recently worked with a leading children’s teaching hospital and research center that was trying to increase efficiencies across a range of systems and procedures. The organization had engaged a number of consultants in the past, but with little success. The consultants had provided valuable feedback but, in the long term, their ideas were unsustainable and the hospital continued to grapple with the same recurring issues.
At that point, the hospital’s chief medical officer realized that he needed to train his staff to solve their problems themselves. Twenty managers, frontline physicians, nurses and administrators participated in ExperienceInnovation™ Apply, with everyone focusing on problems specific to their role. This immersion into human-centered design empowered participants to confront long-standing issues that hampered specific systems and figure out practical, realistic and sustainable ways to fix them. Key short-term outcomes included expediting the availability of beds for incoming patients and creating smoother transitions for patients leaving the hospital.
But the training went much further than these direct outcomes. It meant that staff were equipped with skills to solve future problems, too. With a foundation in a human-centered approach to problem-solving, and experience going through a successful sprint with their team, people had tools and techniques to apply to future challenges. Moreover, they felt trusted and supported by their employer, aware that the hospital had decided to invest in them, rather than take this budget elsewhere.
So what’s the takeaway? There are many situations in which hiring a consultant makes the most sense. Maybe the problem needs to be solved quickly and you simply don't have enough hands on deck. Maybe your people don’t have the bandwidth to work on a particular project or lack a particular kind of expertise. But if the insights you need are a matter of deepening the research and investigations your staff has already begun, or exploring another angle of work that's already in motion, you may want to consider turning to them first. Ask yourself: How close are my people to the problem? How would they feel if I outsourced the solution without their contribution or input? How would solving it themselves impact their engagement? Is this a training opportunity? Is my staff likely to encounter similar challenges down the road?
In answering these questions, you may find that not only are your people best positioned to solve the problem, but that there are also long-term benefits to looking no further than your own backyard.
Interested in learning more about ExperiencePoint’s approach to problem solving? You can read more about our sprints here.