Solve the Right Problem

Solve the Right Problem

Those of you who are regular readers of my newsletter know that I am currently a Learning Team Advisor to the Organizational Consulting and Change Leadership Program at Georgetown University’s Center for Continuing and Professional Development. (Quite a mouthful, isn’t that?) Basically, the name of the course is simply a fancy way of saying Organization Development.

This month’s newsletter is going to describe the steps involved in Organization Development (“OD”). But fear not, those of you who have no reason to believe that you will ever need to know anything about OD. OD is simply a process used to help people figure out what issues their organization is actually facing, and then figure out what to do about it.
In other words, a major goal of an OD process is to ensure that an organization solves the most important issues, rather than red herrings, or things that really aren’t problems at all. Regardless of what you do for a living, I would imagine that many, if not most, of you have been in situations where the problem that is initially identified is not actually the problem that needs resolving.

OD Consulting Steps

There are four primary steps to any OD process. Following is a grossly abbreviated description of each of them.

First, the consultant meets with the client, hears the client’s concerns and goals, figures out whether they’re the right person to help the client, and negotiates who is going to do what. (“Entry and Contracting”)

Second, the consultant gathers and organizes data. (My preferred method is to individually interview the people involved, but there are a variety of methods that can be used.) The consultant then sifts through the information, reduces it to a manageable number of crucial issues – no more than eight is a good rule of thumb – and figures out how to articulate these issues so that people in the organization can see and understand them. (“Data Gathering”)

Third, the consultant gets everyone together, shares the issues she has heard, gets everyone to discuss the issues and amend them as necessary, and works with the organization to develop a plan to resolve the issues. (“Feedback Meeting”)

Fourth, the consultant helps the organization implement its plan. (“Implementation”)

Identifying the Real Issues

Often, the issue the client initially identifies is not the real issue. There can be any number of reasons for this. The client might not be in the loop so he or she doesn’t know what is really going on. Or, it might be the only issue that the client is comfortable discussing. Or, the client is focused on this particular issue because resolving it might make this or her life easier, even though it won’t make a huge difference to the organization as a whole.

That is why the Data Gathering step is so important. In order to know what is really going on, the consultant needs to get the honest, unvarnished, opinion of many people in the organization – often from very junior to top leadership.

However, data gathering and analysis alone is insufficient. Providing everyone with the opportunity to get together (in the feedback meeting) to hear and discuss the issues often helps people dig down and uncover the truly important issues, including ones that might not have been identified during the data gathering.

How is This Applicable to You?

When you are asked to solve something, particularly a big, nebulous issue, remember that the initial, easy answer is probably wrong. After all, if it was such an easy answer, why did the problem happen in the first place?

Instead, try to take your cues from the steps used in OD. Explore the issue – talk to people, solicit their opinions, and pay attention to recurring ideas. Then get as many people together as possible, tell them what you’ve learned, get more input, and together figure out what to do going forward. If you do this, you are far more likely to solve the real problem.




In addition to management consulting, conflict resolution, and executive coaching, I offer tailored programs on a variety of related topics, including how to delegate, communicate more effectively, deal with difficult people, manage conflict in the workplace, manage up, facilitate meetings, manage your career, and network.

Please let me know if there are other topics in which you are interested. If I don’t already have a program on that topic, I am happy to develop one that meets your needs