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Every leader faces critical business challenges. And when those challenges surface, the pressure is on to find solutions – and fast! But the process of finding the right solution starts with the right approach. A savvy business leader, while acting with a sense of urgency, must still take time to set the stage, focus the team and consider all the necessary factors that will result in the most effective go-forward business strategy. For me, a proven approach includes gathering all the data points, looking at them from multiple angles with different lenses, and asking questions to ensure the team is solving for the right problem. Knowing what steps to take early on can make for a faster and more effective decision-making process. Consider these steps when leading your team through a critical business issue:

Clearly identify the problem. Too often we assume we know the problem and skip ahead to the answer. However, it takes a solving problemsconscious effort and a strong leader to stop and ask, “What problem are we really trying to solve?” As the brilliant Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” A business leader must know when to give it another ten minutes of discussion before moving on to a solution.

Facts are our friends. Gathering the facts is critical to objectively assessing the business issue. But just as important is recognizing when you have enough data to forge ahead. Do not allow your team to wallow in analysis paralysis. If you pay attention to what the information is telling you, it will help take the guesswork out of formulating the best possible solution.  Remember, data can be manipulated to tell many different stories, so it’s important to look at the facts from all angles and without preconceived assumptions.

Consider a diversity of thought. No one person has all the answers. Engage the right people early in the process who represent various functional areas and have a diverse skill set to foster a richer conversation right from the get-go.  Once the right players are in the room, ask a few probing questions, then step back and listen to the discussion. Through the dialogue, you may find the problem is not really what you had originally thought and creative solutions will surface.

Know your environment. After performing your internal due diligence, consider any external drivers that could impact potential outcomes such as market forces, regulatory changes, and technology factors. Also, consider emerging trends that could have a longer-term impact such as consumer sentiment and changes in the workforce. For example, consumers’ desire for an omni-channel experience or Millennial employees’ preferences for work-life balance can all influence the optimal solution for a business problem.

A business leader knows that it’s rare to have 100% of the information when making a decision – there are bound to be some unknowns. So while this strategy may not give you all the facts, it will give you a more thoughtful approach to tackling key business issues and determining how best to solve them.

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