Problem Solving – Technology dumbing us down?


When I first started my career oh so many, many moons ago there was very little in terms of technology in the workplace.  I can remember being given a desktop computer with the first installation of Microsoft Office and an overwhelming feeling of trepidation and excitement at the time.  However, we were still drafting design drawings for the aircraft by hand, mobile phones were a Hollywood fantasy, and ERP had yet to emerge.

What I do remember about my early career days was the problem solving capability in the workforce; both frontline and leadership having a quiet confidence in the ability to resolve issues quickly without the need to escalate.  I know there are many factors that affect this observation, experience in the role, prior learning through apprenticeships, education and so on but when I draw the comparison with my last ten years in industries I notice that there has been a shift in problem solving responsibility, confidence and yes, competence.  I believe that the mobile phone and email are making it far to easy to pass the problem up the chain:

FRONTLINE: ‘let them make the call on this one’ the default response as the problem is passed to management

MANAGEMENT: ‘pass the details on, I’ll look after it’ the default response as management lose faith in frontline capability

Has the mobile phone hamstrung our ability?  I believe so. Can I prove it? No.  But what I do believe is that technology is enabling managers to operate at a level below their function performing the role of fixer rather than coach.

When we couldn’t pass the problem on at the click of a button we had to pull on our own resources and initiative to deal with it.  We need to coach these basics again.  A simple question to ask is: How have you contained the problem?  Followed by: What is the countermeasure?  If the answer for the 2 is blurred or mixed up, you probably know right there that you need to start coaching rather than asking them to send you the problem in an email for you to action later.

Any problems with the above, send me an email.

Author – Mark Radley

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