On a macro level, problem solving skills in the workplace are beneficial to any business, including during the hiring process and while employees are performing their daily work. An employee that can critically assess a scenario, identify alternatives and choose the best option is worth their weight in gold.
Not only do those employees solve immediate problems inat the workplace, but they set the stage for success in the long term by creating systems and processes that anticipate and address future issues.
Most successful organizations understand the importance of problem solving skills and why problem solving, critical thinking, and creative thinking are important to their success. Those organizations emphasize both in their hiring processes.
Here are the vital skills that address problem solving importance and how they help the hiring process and workplace.
What Are Problem Solving Skills?
Problem solving skills at work are the skill set needed at a specific job or organization to be able to accomplish the following five things:
- Assess a situation and identify the parameters of the problem
- Identify the alternatives that exist to mitigate the problem
- Choose the option that will most effectively solve the problem
- Map out the process of solving the problem
- Execute that process
Within each of those are several skills that an effective problem solving employee will possess and be able to implement without thinking about them.
Active Listening Skills
Problem solving skills' importance exists across personal and professional lives. None, perhaps, is more applicable than the skill of “active listening.”
Active listening is deliberately engaging with a person during communications with them. Active listening is observing the communicator, listening to what they are saying, and making an effort to understand their message. Further, active listening requires providing topic appropriate feedback.
The benefits of active listening are many:
- Greater levels of communication
- More transparency
- Better communications
- Fewer miscommunications
- Improved employee morale
In addition, several subskills exist that are required to be an effective active listener.
A person that is not engaged in a conversation is usually very easy to spot. Their body language, attention span, eye movements, and even their posture make it clear that they are not into the conversation. People who feel they are receiving appropriate attention are generally less guarded or defensive.
Withholding judgment, in this case, means holding off on presenting an opinion until you are sure you have all the needed facts. Not immediately passing judgment makes everyone involved feel appreciated, even if you disagree with what they are saying or proposing. Making it clear that you will consider all offered opinion(s) with no judgment can smooth things over even if you go in another direction.
Sometimes quick decisions are needed, appropriate and correct. Most times, however, mulling things over and considering contingencies is smarter. By reflecting on your options, you open the door for more input and start formulating a foundation for your thought process that provides the logic behind any decision.
Clarity helps just about anything, problem solving included. If you are unsure about a process or solution, taking the time to understand it helps make it clear you have listened to a person. Taking that time also lets you see a problem from multiple angles.
Providing a summary of the problem, possible solutions, and a recommended path forward shows everyone that you have listened and understood the issue and its remedy. It also helps move a team towards consensus.
Working with your entire team at every level of a process is vital to show you hear your team and understand their point of view. It also helps lead everyone to the same conclusion. Most of all, promoting and facilitating collaboration makes everyone feel appreciated, which often can yield better results for you than the solution to a problem itself.
Each subskill helps with active listening and helps a problem solver identify core issues and solutions.
Being able to analyze a problem is critical to being able to solve it. Any other approach is merely a guess. Sometimes that can work, but the ability to analyze an issue all but ensures that any remedy, decisions or conclusions will be grounded in logic and defensible.
In the hiring process, being able to analyze all that a candidate brings to the table is a “must-have” skill. Without it, there are only a few ways to assess a candidate’s value to your endeavors:
- Their personality
- Whether they are truthful in their description of themselves
- The confidence level they possess
Each is an attribute, but none is a reason alone to hire someone. Seeing them in action and being able to analyze their body language, background documents, and personality firsthand is critical to ensuring you choose the right individual.
The same principle applies to problem solving in non-hiring workplace scenarios. An employee possessing the skills to quickly analyze a problem, break it down to its root cause, and choose the proper way to correct it is invaluable.
A solution is only as good as the data that defines the problem it is fixing. If data is incomplete or erroneous, any decisions made based on that information will be, at best, dependent on luck. The majority of decisions made based on data that is faulty end up resembling that data: Incomplete, insufficient, or wrong.
The only way to get good data for problem solving is to research the problem thoroughly. Decision-makers should never make any decisions until they feel they have enough accurate data to make an informed and correct choice.
Problem solving also requires significant creativity. Some issues have simple solutions and some fix themselves, but most require at least a modicum of creativity to succeed. Creativity is most often associated with innovative ideas or concepts that frame a problem or solution in a new light. Sometimes, however, the implementation of a solution requires the most creativity.
The following are some mundane ways creativity is required in most problem solving scenarios:
- Financing for a solution
- Building support for a solution
- The logistics of a solution (bringing it to fruition)
- Summarizing the success of a solution
For example, behind the design and development of smart devices are the following examples of problems and solutions that required creativity:
- Fitting all the electronics into the device’s casing
- Marketing and Advertising the product
- Setting up timely production and distribution channels
- Procuring the resources to manufacture the devices
- Designing customer services channels
Each, in its way, required creativity. Every solution has several layers of creativity, although the majority are out of sight.
Strong communication skills are also key to successful problem solving. Accurately defining the duties and skills a prospective employee must possess, for instance, demands that managers talk with hiring personnel. Once a hire is made the training or onboarding that an individual receives must be clear, concise, and easily understood.
In the workplace, communications drive success and failure. A team that never communicates or communicates negatively will almost always struggle to be successful. A team that has fluid communication channels gives itself the ability to foresee challenges and design solutions before minor problems become crises.
Dependability is another vital element of problem solving. From the hiring process through the last day an employee works for a business, dependability is the one indispensable element a recruit or an employee can bring to the table.
With problem solving, dependability in terms of producing results is critical. That dependability must be in the form of team members and the solution. If either is undependable, getting the proper solution in place becomes much more difficult.
A team can come up with the best solutions for problem solving examples in the workplace in the history of the world, but if no one can decide to move forward with it, the solution is useless. Worse, a breakdown in the decision-making process can stop the solution identification and implementation process in its tracks.
With reasoned decision-making, however, even the toughest problems can be analyzed, solutions identified and implemented promptly. The key is that the decision-making is not rash or made with only partial information.
Team-building and Teamwork Skills
Problem solving depends on teamwork. A business unit that does not work well together will always struggle to come up with solutions or implement them. The only way teams become cohesive units is if they employ team-building strategies. Those strategies focus on building trust and camaraderie to facilitate problem-solving.
A cohesive team works together at all stages of problem solving. In the workplace, a team that works well together can tackle projects from different angles, all while working towards the same goals. In the hiring process, team building can lead to a streamlined process of identifying talent, interviewing a candidate, and hiring someone that meets all job requirements.
All these skills are needed in some iterations to give a business a chance at successful problem solving. If there is an area that the business or team suffers, it will become a hindrance to identifying solutions and implementing them to meet company goals.
Why Are Problem solving Skills Important in the Workplace?
Problem solving skills in the workplace cannot be over-valued. Companies lacking employees who can engage in problem-solving at work or home are at an extreme disadvantage. Why is problem-solving important in the workplace?
Because every workplace on the planet has problems and issues that need solving. Most often, those problems or issues constantly arise, throughout the day and possess varying degrees of importance.
Having employees with problem solving skills in the workplace is important because, without problem solvers, routine issues grow into crises. An organization lacking problem solving skills will continually lurch from crisis to crisis. Additionally, issues that seem small will fester and grow into crises.
Problem solvers can see the issues that need addressing now, know how to prioritize, and are good at building support for solutions. Here are the core characteristics a problem solver will possess that will allow them and the organization to reap the full benefits of problem solving skills:
When it comes to problem solving, an individual must possess an organized mind (even if their desk does not look like it.) They must be able to assess an issue, determine what options exist, make decisions, and then marshal the employees and resources necessary to solve the problem. That requires a high degree of organization and the ability to think logically under pressure.
One way to describe prioritization is the ability of a person to use their judgment to determine the fundamental elements and importance of any issue. A problem solver can see a list of issues and rank them in importance. They can choose from those list items that are not as important. Finally, they can decide with clarity what issues are not problems.
Think Outside the Box
Problem solvers very rarely are conventional thinkers. They cannot afford to narrow their options by thinking exclusively linearly and traditionally. They must be creative and can see fixes to a problem even if those solutions are nontraditional. They must also discover ways to build support and position resources to achieve success.
Work Under Pressure
Everyone reacts to pressure in different ways. The commonality among problem solvers, though, is the ability to think and act with calmness and deliberation while problems loom.
Even when staff panic, and bedlam reigns, competent problem-solver will keep their cool and maintain clarity of thought. Additionally, a problem-solver can accurately assess a problem, determine the root cause, identify solutions and implement them even as others they work with lose their cool.
Risk assessment is not so much a personality characteristic as it is one of the most important skills a leader or problem solver can possess. Every decision, product, service, program, project, or employee has an inherent risk. A skilled problem solver can identify those risks before they emerge.
A problem solving recruiter, for example, will be able to read into a recruit's resume and ascertain with a fair amount of accuracy the type of employee they would be. They can interact with a recruit and formulate an impression regarding how easy it would be to work with them.
With a product or service, a problem solver can anticipate the types of problems that exist for a product or service. They can see, for example, how a slogan could cause PR problems or a safety issue with a product might create legal issues. They can then estimate the risk the problems pose and identify solutions.
Problem Solving Skills Assessment Best Practices and Test Example
One way of figuring out if your current employee or a prospective employee is a good problem solver is to give them a Problem Solving Skills Assessment. Choosing the proper test, however, requires that it meet certain standards.
Addressing outrageous hypotheticals tends to produce outrageous hypothetical answers. Make sure your skills test is realistic and is not so out of the mainstream that even reasonable answers seem ridiculous. Your examples should reflect something your prospective employee or current employees will face.
For example, if your business is producing customer-requested, customized fabrication of machine products, expecting your employees or a prospect to address a legal issue will not give you a good read on their skills as a designer and producer of fabricated machine products.
This is because addressing a legal issue might have similarities to a fabrication challenge, but fundamentally, they are different animals.
To get the best possible results from your problem solving skills assessment, keep the test real.
Biases can weigh heavily on how an employee or prospect responds to a question. If the question puts anyone or anything in a bad light, answers will reflect that.
For instance, if a question starts with a description of a lazy employee, any solution a test taker makes will reflect that bias to address the shortcomings of that employee.
Subjective employment testing environments compel most test-takers to pick the answer they think the employer favors. A question that possesses a bias will have that bias reflected in the test-taker's response.
The employer will not get a good idea of the ability of the test-taker to solve problems in a problem solving test so much as they will get an answer the test-taker thinks the prospective employer wants to hear.
If a question or scenario reflects a racial bias or a political leaning, the employee or prospect might choose an answer they would never choose in reality, but think the answer is what the decision-makers in a business want to hear. The employee or recruit might over-compensate in their answer to accommodate the bias they think the business emulates.
What Tests Exist To Assess Problem Solving Skills?
There are multiple sample problem solving assessments online. You also can create your test and cater it to your business by using real-life issues your company and employees have faced. If you decide to create your test, make sure someone with an HR background examines it to ensure legal compliance.
How Do Problem Solving Skills Tests Work?
The average problem solving skills test poses a slate of problem questions or scenarios for an employee to consider. The answers can follow any format, including:
- Multiple-choice options
- Combination of both
Depending on the testing format, sourcing references may be required.
In a recruitment scenario, testing is usually done as part of the hiring process. The testing can follow any form and its purpose is to give the prospective employer a sense of the ability of a prospect to think logically, critically, and on their feet.
Testing can also be performed internally (although state and federal law applies to how the test can be interpreted and how any answers can be applied.) The format can be in any manner although, with internally administered tests, the data presented in testing questions may apply to the company and job in question.