The Most Important Quality in Problem-Solving

Written by: Carolyn Campbell, Salesforce Practice Manager, CG Infinity Inc.

We’ve been on a hiring binge @cygrp lately – lots of work, more in the pipe – good problems to have!  An internal debate has been circulating over the past few months, as we interview all these candidates:  how can you tell which ones will be the best problem solvers?

While we’re putting each interviewee through their paces with stringent questioning about their technical skills and experience, I’ve taken to asking leading questions to help me gauge what I believe to be another important factor in problem-solving:  empathy.

The best problem solvers have empathy.  The best way to solve a problem is to really understand the problem, and that takes something a bit deeper than a fishbone diagram or process map.

Here’s the question: “Tell me your best method for understanding a new project.”  Pretty open-ended, you could go anywhere with it.  Now, there are several methodologies out there that attempt to get at the core of a problem, and the more studied of my interview candidates might start playing Buzzword Bingo, throwing out references to user stories, journey mapping and requirements elicitation.  These are all good things, and usually give a hint that you know how to execute a project.  But when it comes to really understanding what is important to your clients (internal or external), strict adherence to a methodology can blind you to the things that are most meaningful to them.

The ability to see past your bulleted-list of requirements, and to understand the human forces behind the request, shows depth of thought and a connection to the real drivers of business decisions.  I’d rather hear about how you might study up on the client’s industry to understand their current market pressures, or how you would engage in meaningful discussions about their longer-term corporate vision.  Sure, sprinkle in some description of your methodology and experience with project execution…but I want to make sure the consultants I am working with are capable of depth, as well.

Depth of thought and feeling is what separates the leaders and relationship-builders from those who simply execute.  Even when you execute well, without a deeper connection to your client and their real motivators, you will be seen as a performer, never as a true partner.