Business Employee

Becoming a Better Problem Solver

It's easier than you may think.

Synonyms for small business owners: problem solver, therapist, lender, mother, teacher, enabler, enforcer, sympathizer, promoter, communicator, capitalist, and optimist. Take out capitalist and lender and it could be a job description for a preacher or homemaker.

Honing these skills is never ending and always useful as I continue to oversee the five overlapping departments of

  • 1.) Marketing: direct mail, tv, radio, newspaper, Google AdWords
  • 2.) Sales: call center, retail store front, phone sales, web sales,
  • 3.) Fulfillment: manufacturing, purchasing,
  • 4.) Warehouse: shipping, receiving, inventory, storage
  • 5.) Accounting: Accounts receivable, accounts payable, general ledger, taxes.

Though “problem solver” is the first synonym mentioned in the first paragraph, it is not the one an experienced manager should be spending most of their time on. And if, right now, upon hearing this, you are cringing and thinking the term “problem solver” is a synonym for your life, you may enjoy the following read.

Managing vs Problem Solving

Early in my career, I thought being a good manager meant spending my days problem solving. I problem solved between employees, between departments, and with customers. This management style was stressful, unsustainable and, eventually, I recognized it as being limiting to my company’s growth. I knew intuitively that something was off. But I was too green (as in “hadn’t ripened enough”) to know what it was.

Also, in my early, “green” years, I signed up for many short, small business seminars and workshops.  While attending one such luncheon, a presenter asked us, “Are you spending your days firefighting problems?” Yes, I proudly thought to myself. But then he went on to say, “If you answered yes, then you’re not managing well. A good manager does not practice firefighting but rather fire prevention.”

Ding Ding Ding! There it was: the missing puzzle piece that I needed to grow my company. Though my ego was bruised, I listened intently for what I knew was the answer I had been seeking. A shift in my consciousness began.

Rather than “put out the fires” and problems that had already occurred, I was now being instructed to stop the fire from ever starting. The presenter told us to go back to the source of the problem, to look at it anew, and to follow its process, step by step, all the way from its beginning to its end.


As with all of life, when you are on the right and righteous path of enlightenment, things fall into place. Around the same time as this business luncheon, I was given the management book “The Goal,” which spoke to this mistaken way of managing. In Eliyahu M. Goldratt’s book I read about a thing he calls “throughput”.

through·put noun The amount of material or items passing through a system or process.

I learned that if mistakes happen anywhere in an order’s throughput process, then those mistakes would stay with the order all the way till the end. With this new knowledge, I chose a long running problem in our shipping department to solve: Why did so many orders go out late?

I followed the guidelines in Mr. Goldratt’s book and went to the beginning of the order process.  Though the problem was noticed in shipping, it actually happened, to my surprise, in the very beginning. Many customers were delaying their own orders by being slow to send in a down payment or approve their artwork. Eureka! To use the analogy of the presenter, we set up a “fire prevention program” and enacted timeline rules for orders. These rules were then taught to the salespeople, who in turn educated their customers and held them accountable.

Just like in my 20’s, when I learned from Al-Anon to look at every problem using the serenity prayer guidelines, I now looked at every problem in my life (business, social, personal) using the throughput process and found its source.

After writing this blog I’d like to add 2 more small business owner synonyms, which may be the most important skills to develop of all: “listener” and “forever-student.”