4 Small Ways to Solve Big Management Problems

Last Updated Oct 12, 2010 2:50 PM EDT

Small Things Solving Big ProblemsWhether you're a product manager, an HR professional, or a CFO, we all face difficult challenges. That comes with the territory. But sometimes, critical issues are also the hardest ones to solve because they're outside our functional expertise or there simply is no training to help resolve them.

For example, what if you're not connecting eye-to-eye with your boss, an important peer, or a key employee? I'm not talking about a conflict; we're all trained in conflict resolution. I'm talking about a relationship that's just not clicking. You've racked your brain and can't figure it out. Even the other person doesn't know why.

Or your staff meetings are lifeless and unproductive, nobody's engaged. You've bounced some ideas around and nothing seems to work. Or you're constantly double-booked in meetings and deluged with interruptions and just can't seem to find time to get any real work done. Something's got to give.

Well, I've often found that small, simple changes can solve some of the most daunting management problems. Here are a few stories that will offer some interesting ideas. More importantly, they'll get you thinking about how to solve your biggest challenges in a different way. You'll see what I mean:

1. The curious case of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde CEO
Years ago, I was having one helluva time connecting with my boss, the CEO of a public company I'd just joined. He was a stoic, methodical, and controlling guy. I was having difficulty with his micromanaging style and the mismatch seemed uncomfortable for him too.

I was commiserating with a peer who had worked for the guy for years, when he asked:

"When do you have your weekly one-on-ones with him?"

"On Tuesdays," I said.

"No, not the day," he said, "What time are your meetings?"

"Um, 10 o'clock," I replied, wondering what that had to do with anything.

"Try moving them to the afternoon, after lunch," he said. "It'll make a big difference. You'll see."

"Okay, I'll try it."

To say I was skeptical is an understatement. Still I was willing to try anything. So I did. And you know what? That was it. Everything changed. He was like a different person after lunch, more open and collaborative. No idea why. We got along famously after that. What started as a nightmare, probably for both of us, ended up as a great relationship.

2. How taking walks saved a company
Then there's the CEO who showed up for our usual weekly meeting and asked if I wanted to take a walk. I said sure. I love to walk. It didn't occur to me at the time, but it had to do with growing up in Brooklyn, where my family didn't own a car. My dad loved to take walks, so that was like our bonding time, when I had him all to myself. I loved those walks.

Anyway, the weekly meetings with my CEO turned into weekly walks around the neighborhood surrounding our headquarters. I don't know if it was the open air, the exercise, or the father-son thing (for me, anyway), but something clicked. We were in the midst of restructuring the company, and those walks became our strategy sessions that solved a host of critical issues.

3. Dilbert fixed my staff meeting problem
I used to hold my weekly staff meetings in the morning and, for some reason, they really sucked. Then, in a Scott Adams Dilbert book, of all places, I read that managers should hold meetings in the afternoon because most people did their best thinking and were most productive in the morning.

Well, I floated the idea to my staff and they all concurred. We changed the time to afternoon and, lo and behold, everyone was happier and more engaged. The meetings were more effective. Go figure.

4. Can't work at work? Try working somewhere else
Executive life can be hectic, especially in the fast-paced technology industry. I was always struggling to find time to get any "real" work done. Most days I had back-to-back meetings I couldn't get out of. And during my rare office time, there were constant, but important, interruptions. That was the nature of our business.

So I started doing my "real" work -- strategy, thinking, presentations -- in the evenings at home. I'd relax with a glass of wine and be remarkably productive. It wasn't an everyday thing, just when necessary. And you know what? That was the ticket. It's been part of my "process" ever since.

Those are just a few examples of how a simple tweak can solve a big, thorny management problem. What big challenges have you solved with small changes?

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Image CC 2.0 Courtesy Flickr user DavidDennisPhotos.com