The Power of Three for Better Management

Article by Mary Kovach, Ph.D.

Human brains are wired to remember in threes. Think of the three major sports in the United States and their three-letter acronyms: baseball (MLB), football (NFL), and basketball (NBA). The three major television networks are NBC, CBS, and ABC. In the Olympics, we celebrate the top three winners with medals of gold, silver, and bronze. When things get tough, it can be difficult to find a starting point. Here’s how to employ the spirit of three and apply it to solving problems.

Often when I’m asked to help someone resolve an issue, I break it down into at least three parts. In fact, the three steps to resolving problems are to: 1) identify, 2) analyze, and, 3) implement.

First, identify. Obviously, it’s important to identify the probl m. However, I think it’s more valuable to identify the root cause of the issue. If you can articulate the root cause, the issue is less likely to recur in the future. This may include taking the time to research, performing the proper due diligence, and getting to the heart of the matter with honesty.

The next step, analysis, is likely the most complex. Analyzing should be focused and three-fold. It should encompass 1) understanding this issue, 2) developing alternatives, and, 3) identifying which of the alternatives makes the most sense. There’s a difference between identifying issues and under-standing issues.

Understanding means that you comprehend the intricacies that surround the issue. It also means that you possess the ability to forecast the impact of various actions you’ll take regarding the problem. Developing alternatives means that you’ve assessed benefits and harms, projected the impact of various decisions, and got creative. You’ll select your alternatives(s) to be your go-forward decision.

The last of the three steps is to implement. You’ll need to execute the alternative(s) you chose that will likely resolve the problem. Remember that what you implemented needs to be monitored to ensure the solution resolves the issue, remains as part of the process, and doesn’t create any other issues.

Here’s a good example demonstrating how to utilize this power of three formula in the workplace to resolve a problem and create a solution. When reporting Q1 financials, it was discovered the forecasted royalty payments were less than the expected amount to be paid. That was the problem. Three steps were used to resolve it: 1) identify, 2) analyze, and, 3) implement.

To identify the problem, analysts reviewed the data and determined that a handful of stores stopped paying royalty fees to the corporate entity. After further reviewing the details for these specific stores, the common theme among them was that they were franchise-owned and had just been bought back by corporate. The transitions were to take place in the next quarter. Analysis concluded that the root cause for the non-payment was that it was not specified within the agreement that royalty payments needed to be paid until the transition was complete. Additionally, the finance team provided some options: a) Allow the situation to continue and absorb the debt upon acquisition; b) Send a threatening letter from the corporate attorney to each store asking for payment…or else…; c) Schedule conference calls with each of the five stores to determine how to obtain payments and resolve the lack independently; d) Work with the legal department to ensure the appropriate language was incorporated in the contract to eliminate similar situations in the future. Further analysis concluded the best decision for the organization was to move forward with options C and D.

Implementation included contacting each store, explaining the situation, and determining a payment plan to bring the outstanding financials current. Additionally, time was scheduled with the legal team to walk through the updated language in the contract for future acquisitions such as these to eliminate any recurrence. A plan for follow up with each store (after payments were made or due) to say thanks, or ask when the payment could be expected. The final step was to obtain a copy of the legal document to ensure the language had been updated and to use as a reference in future similar scenarios.

Now you can see how the three steps: identify, analyze, and implement, provide guidance in a simple format towards problem resolution.