Avoid the Temptation of the Quick and Easy Answer

When teams are trying to solve a problem there is often a natural level of impatience. There is a desire to find an answer and let everyone know what they have done, usually as quickly as possible. In doing so, they will often grasp on to a solution that is quick, easily implemented, and may be the first thing that comes to mind.

The problem with taking the quick and easy answer is the solution may not be the best answer to the problem. We miss the opportunity to diagnose the real causes of the problem, explore multiple possible solutions, and determine which one(s) best solves the issues. They are often short-sighted. The quick solution may really be an attempt to address the symptoms of the problem, not the problem itself.

Have you ever seen (or been part of) a group that tried to solve a problem, only to have to return at subsequent meetings to try to fix the unforeseen problems created by our “solution”? This is a sign all aspects of the problem or solution were not adequately explored.

Even worse, there is a greater likelihood these quick solutions may be wrong than when the group takes it time. These bad solutions may make not only fail to solve the problem, they can make things worse or mask the real problem.

This was brought to mind this week by an article about the efforts by a state (not Ohio) to address student achievement in their high schools. A brief analysis of the situation looks something like:

Problem: Student achievement and learning in our high schools is not adequate.

Symptom: Grades earned by our high school students are too low.

The symptom is the effect caused by the problem. Treating symptoms is almost never effective. We need to find the root causes of the problem and find ways to resolve them. In this case, it could involve raising expectations for students, improving curriculum and instruction, and analyzing data to find specific areas were student performance needs to be improved.

Unfortunately, none of these solutions is quick, easy, or inexpensive. Even more unfortunately, this state chose to treat the symptom rather than solve the problem.

In doing so, they essentially said, “If the grades received by our students are too low, let’s make it easier for them to get better grades.” The state superintendent is proposing to change the grading scale to lower the standards for each grade.

Letter Grade Current Scale Proposed Scale
A 93-100 90-100
B 85-92 80-89
C 77-84 70-79
D 70-76 60-70
F Below 70 Below 60

This change should treat the symptom. Students should earn higher grades, at least in the short term. However, it will not improve student learning and may have the opposite effect.

Suppose a student gets an 80%. Currently, they would get a C. Under the new scale they get a higher grade, a B. Have they learned more? No, but things look better for the public and others.

The state superintendent of education said her reasons were to make it easier for students to qualify for scholarships and help athletes who are trying to maintain eligibility or compete for athletic grants.

While she said, “It’s not about watering down grades,” that certainly will be an impact. Long term, as students realize they do not have to work as hard to get a grade, student performance is likely to decline. Allowing previously unqualified students to earn scholarships has the potential to lower the availability of these awards to truly deserving students.

Suppose a manufacturer is having trouble producing its product within specifications. What if, to solve this problem, they decide to widen their specifications so more products meet the lower standards? Will this improve their product or customer satisfaction? It can only serve to damage the company and its integrity.

Do not settle for the quick and easy answer. Rarely do these ideas solve the problem and, even worse, can cause long-term damage to the organization. Give problems the time necessary to adequately explore them, diagnose their root causes, and consider multiple possible solutions. Only then do you really have the chance to solve the problem.

About CALMC Blog

Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to involving employers and employees to preserve jobs, resolve workplace issues, and promote labor-management cooperation. Visit our website at http://calmc.org
This entry was posted in Change Management, Data-Based Decision Making, Managing Change, Problem Solving and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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