Home Organizational Psychology Intervention / Consulting Organizational Consultation XXII: Empowerment (Part Two)

Organizational Consultation XXII: Empowerment (Part Two)

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Effective problem analysis and problem solving require repeated recycling through situational assessment, target identification, and proposal generation. This process never comes formally to an end but rather moves the person or group confronting a problem toward increasingly better ideas to meet increasingly accepted values, based on increasingly valid and useful information.


Usually when confronted with a pressing problem, we attempt almost immediately to generate solutions to the problem. This is the classic deficit-based model of problem solving: discover the deficit and immediately try to reduce or eliminate it. While at times we have all experienced the gratifying feeling of rapidly producing a solution, we have also all undoubtedly experienced the frustration of repeated failure. At times we think we have developed a sound solution, yet soon find it to be inadequate or unacceptable. At other times, we appear to have solved the immediate pressing problem only to discover that in the long range, our “solution” has created other unexpected problems that are even more difficult to solve.

One approach to problem analysis and solution that seems to avoid these pitfalls is to emphasize the concrete specification of desired outcomes. The management-by-objectives (MBO) approach to administrative problem solving, for instance, places great emphasis on the specification of outcomes or objectives. The assumption is that problems are often not fully understood, analyzed, or solved because they have not been formulated in terms of goals, objectives, or outcomes. Without such guidelines, proponents of MBO would argue: We have neither a direction for solution of the problem nor a basis for evaluating our actions.

While the specification of a desired state is essential for effective problem management, it is still a deficit-based model. We determine where we are falling short or the distance we still must travel to arrive at a specific destination—much as we do when engaging a deficit-based model of benchmarking (see earlier essay). However, this approach still lacks a full appreciation of the problem. It is also essential that a clear picture be gained of the current state in which the problem is being experienced. Any objective we might establish runs the risk of being unrealistic. Or, when achieved, the solution selected is the cause of yet another, unexpected problem. Furthermore, it is often difficult to establish a realistic objective without first understanding the resources and resistance inherent in the current situation. Objectives identified without adequate knowledge of existing conditions may look good on paper but be useless or even destructive when achieved.

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