by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
If you have an iPhone (like me) then you know all about ‘Siri’, Apple’s personal voice assistant. She, or he, can tell you the fastest route to your destination, where the closest In-N-Out Burger is if you’re in Texas (like I was a few weeks back), the answer to a math problem, or the answer to a random question that suddenly pops into your head while you’re watching a television show (this happens to my wife all the time).
‘Siri’ is a problem solver who can provide you with answers and solutions to help make your life, and the daily decisions in it, easier. That sounds like something prospective students and families might find useful during the stressful, and at times confusing, college search process.
Effective problem solving is a characteristic of every great recruiter, sales professional and leader. If you don’t currently think of yourself as a problem solver, I want you to consider making a change. Why? For starters, less problems will equal happier, more appreciative students, families and co-workers. Beyond that, when you provide someone with a solution to their problem, it typically increases your value as an “expert”. That’s one way to separate yourself from the competition as well as stand out in the mind of your boss.
Problem solving is easier when you know how to approach it effectively. Too often I have admissions counselors tell me they take a “make it up as I go” approach. A more effective method is to turn problem solving into a habit and come up with a good process to use when approaching a problem. Without that process you risk your solutions being ineffective.
The following seven-step process can help you become a more effective problem solver:
- Anticipate potential problems. You don’t have to wait until your prospect, their parents, or your boss comes to you with a problem to react. Be proactive. Anticipate common problems that you will face during the summer months and into the next cycle and create a plan ahead of time.
- Identify the problem and ensure clarity. When you encounter a new problem, it’s important to recognize it right away and ensure that you deal with the real problem and not its symptoms. It’s also important that you don’t make the assumption that everyone involved understands the problem the same way. Get clarity by coming up with an agreed upon written or verbal definition of the problem.
- Determine the cause of the problem and analyze it. Most problems have multiple parts. Take time to identify and record what those are. For example, if your campus visit is getting poor marks you might think the problem is with your tour guides. However, if you look a little deeper, the real issue might be a lack of training. Within that training there are different parts and elements. Once you’ve identified the parts and elements that you think contribute the most to the problem it’s time to analyze each of them in greater detail.
- Identify possible solutions. Now it’s time to brainstorm. If you’ve worked hard to define and analyze the problem up to this point, your solutions may in fact be quite obvious. Using the campus tour example again, if the tour guides lack of knowledge is causing the complaints from students and families, the obvious solution is to review the training program and make sure that all the important information is clearly communicated.
- Evaluate each solution. Look at the pros and cons of each solution and make sure the solutions you’re going to present involve feedback from the appropriate people when necessary. If it’s a team problem, then include the rest of your admissions team. If the problem has for example to do with a personality issue of one of those aforementioned tour guides, then talk to the appropriate people who can offer objective advice as well as those who will be tasked with implementing the solution.
- Offer solutions OR Carry out the course of action. If you’re going to offer solutions to a problem, present only one or two. If you offer too many suggestions you risk confusing the other person and allowing him or her to become indecisive. Be extremely clear on the solution and ask the other person you’re helping to repeat it back. If you’ll be the person taking the lead and acting on the chosen solution, move forward at the appropriate time and be mindful that you may encounter some obstacles during implementation.
- Follow-up and monitor. Once the plan has been put into effect, don’t forget to follow up and monitor the situation. Any additional problems must be dealt with quickly. After the solution has been implemented it’s essential to measure its success including getting feedback from people affected by any changes that occurred. It’s also a good idea to keep a record of outcomes and any additional problems that came about.
When executed together these seven steps provide a foundation that can help you become a more effective problem solver. They’ve worked for our clients, and I’m confident they will work for you!
We help college and university admissions teams with their professional development year-round. If you’d like to learn more about how our clients continue to GROW and WIN, call me directly at 612-386-0854 or click here to send me an email.