Problem-Free Problem Solving
Pet store owners and managers can solve issues successfully and efficiently by identifying the right approach and devoting the appropriate amount of time.
As an owner or manager, you play an important role in achieving your pet store’s strategic goals. Doing so requires participating in key decisions related to sales and service objectives, implementing solutions to identified problems and evaluating the success of your efforts.
Understanding your personal problem-solving style, allocating time appropriately and preparing yourself to deal with issues as they arise are critical to managing your workload.
Your personal style to solving problems can probably be categorized as either analytical or creative. The analytical approach is systematic, logical and follows a defined series of steps. The creative approach uses intuition and spontaneity to generate unique, innovative solutions.
Not every problem can be solved using the same approach. To address the wide range of decisions you face as a pet store owner or manager, it’s important to become a whole-brained thinker. This will allow you to choose the approach or combination of approaches that best fits the problem to be solved.
If you favor the analytical approach, exercise your creativity. If you instinctively use the creative approach, develop your powers of logic and analysis. Strengthening your skills in your less-dominant approach will also allow you to handle complicated situations more effectively.
Prepare for Success
Before you begin the problem-solving process, you should prepare yourself for success. Thinking of your problem as a challenge and an opportunity for greater achievement will help get you in the right mindset.
Problem situations can often seem unpleasant or threatening, especially when they create a negative atmosphere or require dealing with a difficult colleague. However, being pessimistic or fearful can prevent you from finding an effective solution, working alone or with a team.
One of the most effective ways to avoid negative thinking is to reframe the issue. Rather than dwelling on the ‘problem’ part of the situation, focus on the opportunities it creates for you, your associates and your store. Opportunities may include:
•Serving your customers better.
•Identifying new business opportunities.
•Improving your store’s procedures.
•Streamlining existing processes.
•Resolving long-standing issues.
•Increasing your personal profile or your team’s.
•Strengthening your interpersonal skills.
Select an Approach
The decisions and problems you face in your pet store vary widely. To be able to solve them successfully and efficiently, you must first determine which approach is best suited to the problem at hand. You can then apply the appropriate approach, or combination of approaches. For examples of what approach to use when, see the table below.
Determine & Allocate Time Needed
Before you begin to define the problem, it’s important to decide how much time you should spend solving any given issue. Obviously, not all problems take the same amount of time to solve. But sometimes, it’s easy to let problems take up much more time than they are really worth.
To make sure you dedicate just the right amount of time, start by trying to determine how important the problem is to your store. Plan to dedicate the most time to problems related to associate productivity, store profitability and human or animal health and safety.
Once you determine how much time to devote to the issue, the next step is to decide how much of the available time you should spend on each step of the problem-solving process. While this allocation will vary from problem to problem, the accompanying table shows general guidelines. Your instinct is probably to spend the most time generating or selecting solutions. In fact, you should spend approximately half your time on the first step, defining the problem. Many problems are more complicated than they seem. Addressing only the surface issue— rather than the underlying causes—will not solve the problem.
Work Independently or With a Team
Most problems can be solved independently or with a team. As shown in the table below, each approach offers advantages and disadvantages that you should consider when making your selection.
For problems that require a team approach, the characteristics of your group may be the most important factor in whether you are able to successfully identify and implement a solution. Effective problem-solving teams:
• Have a clear mission.
• Include at least three and no more than eight members. Larger teams can quickly become unmanageable.
•Are characterized by appreciation and respect among team members.
Successful teams include people with diverse backgrounds and strengths, who can contribute a wide range of ideas. For best results, every team should include:
• Someone who knows. Select individuals who are knowledgeable about the process to be improved or the problem to be solved.
• Someone who cares. People who are genuinely interested in solving a problem are invaluable resources. Although they may not know as much as others with more experience or training, they contribute a valuable perspective to the team and are critical to building support to implement a solution.
•Someone logical. Analytical team members will help the team use a systematic process to solve problems.
•Someone creative. Creative problem-solvers bring intuition and spontaneity to the table, helping the team develop innovative ideas.
In some situations, one person may be able to fill more than one of these roles.
Pet store owners and managers are confronted with problems every day. While your store’s problems may be unique, identifying your problem-solving style, developing your problem-solving skills and preparing for success can help you implement solutions successfully. PB
Stephanie A. Kaplan is the director of online education for the Pet Industry Distributors Association. She manages PIDA’s free online training program, Pet Store Pro. Since it was first launched in 2008, over 5,800 retailers have turned to Pet Store Pro for brand-neutral training on critical skills for associates, managers and owners. Pet Store Pro is free to qualified retailers; visit www.petstorepro.com to register and begin using the program.
This article was adapted from “Problem-Free Problem Solving, one of 29 chapters available as part of Pet Store Pro’s online training. Lessons cover choosing a problem-solving style; preparing to solve problems independently or with a team; defining the problem; and generating, selecting, implementing and evaluating solutions.