insights & research

HR needs to be more strategic - what the heck does that mean? Don’t just hire individuals. Hire problem solvers and build teams.

Without question, the war for talent has created immense pressure to attract and acquire the right people – the need to clearly understand these requirements is the difference behind merely reacting and hiring people and forward-thinking strategic recruitment. The cost of hiring the wrong person is more than a dollar amount – it can significantly impact an organization’s ability to achieve its goals or reach its targets.

Human Resource leaders are under significant pressure to become more strategic within their organizations – to more proactively advise and bring solutions to their executive leadership teams and Boards. They need to position and present solutions as having the ability to contribute to tangible business results that have a direct impact on top and bottom line performance.

Being strategic means solving problems…
The ability to solve problems is the difference between a successful implementation and a strategy that struggles, lags behind and fails to deliver. People solve problems – they may employ software, technology, and processes to assist them, but the right solution begins and ends with the ability to correctly identify a problem and systematically develop a solution to solve it. In today’s complex world of business problems (because let’s face it, they aren’t simple), this requires creativity and an approach that leverages the strengths of a diverse and balanced team of problem solvers.

There is a tremendous opportunity for HR leaders to contribute strategic value by aligning an organization’s recruitment efforts with the problems it needs to solve – finding the right people to do the right thing at the right time is more important now than it has ever been. It’s critical that organizations understand how to build teams of people that leverage the right combination of styles and behaviors that will allow them to innovatively address key organizational challenges. By clearly defining and understanding the key problems facing their organizations, HR can determine the type of problems solver needed, and the right combination of them to build the most effective problem solving teams.

People solve problems…
The ability to understand and leverage the potential for innovation by aligning recruitment and problem solving can be a key competitive differentiator. Just as the art of negotiation, facilitation, coaching and salesmanship have become sought after ‘soft’ skills, problem solving is quickly becoming a must-have ‘new’ skill given its propensity to deliver tangible results. Problem solving styles are measurable allowing the deliberate creation of effective teams without the guesswork.

“People are our greatest resource and if HR wants to be seen as a strategic partner and leader within the organization it needs to understand how to leverage the strengths of all employees and develop high performing teams that are focused on solving the right problems in order to move the organization forward,” says Jennifer Spear, former VP Human Resources, current advisor to HR and Leadership Teams.

By profiling a job candidate or an existing employee, HR can truly understand an individual’s unique problem-solving style. Essentially, an individual’s dominant style and preference for acquiring and expressing knowledge can be revealed through one of four types of profiles: Generators, Conceptualizers, Optimizers or Implementers.

Generators create options in the form of new possibilities or new problems that might be solved as well as by generating new opportunities that might be capitalized on.

Conceptualizers create options in the form of alternate ways to understand and define a problem or opportunity as well as by offering good ideas that help solve it.

Optimizers create options in the form of ways to get an idea to work in practice and by uncovering all of the factors that go into a successful implementation plan.

Implementers create options in the form of actions that get results and gain acceptance for implementing a change or a new idea.

Generators define problems as opportunities and create options by proactively searching for new problems or new opportunities. Conceptualizers seek alternate ways to understand and define a problem or create ideas to help solve it. Optimizers prefer to focus on practical solutions and uncovering all of the factors that go into a successful implementation plan, while Implementers are driven to get results and gain acceptance for a new idea or change.

Profiling existing employees is good place to start – this will identify an organization’s strengths and help identify weaknesses that recruitment needs to address. This approach may also lead to the proactive identification of resource needs in advance of the business bringing hire requests forward.

Organizations can’t afford to recruit based on a job description alone – it’s doesn’t allow them to focus a performer on a task or initiative where it’s needed the most or has the potential to deliver the greatest value. In addition to a profile, consider a “Problem Statement” or “Challenge Brief” to accompany a new role description – this will help the organization ensure that recruitment is directly tied to the definition of the problem, and the resulting profiles of the problem solvers needed to solve it.

Build teams of problem solvers…
Few organizational challenges are within the scope of a single individual to solve. Moving problem solving from discovery to idea to implementation usually requires a number of people, ideally working within a well-functioning team.

Research has shown teams comprised of different problem solving styles are generally more productive and innovative relative to teams made up of similar styles. A team will approach a problem from multiple perspectives and a diverse mix of members will greatly reduce the risk of an isolated or silo’d view, enabling a more balanced approach with its own built-in checks and balances. A properly constructed team will regulate itself – ensuring that concepts and ideas are challenged, evolved, adjusted and discarded as part of the process.

“It is really about building a successful team with variety of thinking styles that start working together and learn to solve problems,” says Uri Levy, Marketing Manager for Canada at Legrand. “Profiling team members helps identify what type of thinking styles are missing and help the organization put the recruitment emphasis on the missing or weaker styles because the success of your company depends on how effectively and quickly you can solve challenges.”

By synchronizing these diverse styles, teams can move more seamlessly through the generation, conceptualization, optimization and implementation stages of effective problem solving. Team members execute specific thinking skills that make the process work. They recognize and eliminate destructive thinking practices, are encouraged to employ advanced tools such as customer challenge mapping, and routinely ask “how might we?”, “why?”, and “what’s stopping?” as part of a new everyday language of innovation.

Solving problems is the first step to innovation…
Innovation is the opportunity that lies on the other side of problem solving – the potential to leverage new-found solutions to address new and previously undefined problems is where an organization can truly realize the value of an innovative problem solving process and the design of effective problem solving teams.

“Having the right balance of creative problem solving styles plus a deliberate creative problem solving process within a team is as important as having the right technical and commercial expertise,” says Richard Perez, Capability Leader GYM and Corporate Training, Procter and Gamble. “Team expertise alone in the absence of a deliberate team design and process can actually impair innovation because the abundant talent in the teams cancels each other’s out if the team is not all pulling in the same direction through the phases of problem definition, conceptualization, optimization and implementation.”

Resources shouldn’t be managed from the bottom line – especially when the potential for them to address top line challenges and deliver focused results is significant. This approach can also significantly enhance the rationale behind defining Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for problem solving and innovation and how these are factored in a Performance Management Process.

Human Resources must be strategically aligned with business leadership across an organization. Having insight into the challenges facing those functional areas they need to recruit for – operations, sales, finance, IT and sales – will enable greater insight into the nature of the problems new candidates will be tasked to solve. This approach allows HR professionals to examine recruiting challenges in a more holistic way and still arrive at concrete, actionable solutions.

Armed with the insight of a problem solving profile and an acute understanding of the type of problem solver needed to address the problem, HR will have the ability to direct and focus performance based on an organization needs to innovate and deliver differentiated value and business results.

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