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Staff or Volunteer: Our Job is to Solve Problems

Lori Halley 07 July 2014 3 comments

This is a guest post by Amanda Kaiser of Smooth The Path.

Do you have an unsolvable problem? A problem has been nagging you and your peers for a long time, maybe even years. How do we grow revenue when the industry is down? How do we stop the decline of a critical product? How do we engage ever-less interested members?

During the Wild Apricot Small Membership Advisory Community calls I noticed that no matter what kind of organization and no matter whether paid staff or volunteers, everyone was solving tough problems. Most of us were faced with big, seemingly unsolvable problems.

What Do You Do When You Have An Unsolvable Problem?

These big hairy problems get us stuck. Stuck because we spend valuable time thinking about them and sometimes literally stuck because the organization can’t move forward. Here are some ideas for dealing with your problem so you can move forward again:

1.    Carefully Frame the Problem

The way you state the problem pre-defines possible solutions. Many times we frame problems very narrowly, which gives us few solutions. For example one of three key revenue sources is sharply declining. If we narrowly define the problem we might say: how do we replace this revenue stream? If we broadly define the problem we can say: how do we grow revenue. See how this gives us many more opportunities?

2.    Focus on Members

As stewards of the organization we focus on the organization’s problems. But our organizations become more relevant when we focus on solving member’s problems. When we solve many of our member’s problems well and often, business problems like revenue take care of themselves.

3.    Start Easy and Work Your Way Up

We want to solve the biggest problems first but start small. Solve the easiest problem first and then move to the next hardest problem. Keep working your way through the organization’s problems in this fashion. By working from the bottom up you will build trust within the organization and a mindset that will help you be successful by the time you get to the biggest and hardest problems.

4.    Know You May Not Find a One for One

Are you looking for one solution to your one problem? Give yourself more options by acknowledging that you may have to implement a few solutions to solve one problem.

5.    Still Unsolvable? Ask for Help.

The beauty of an outsider is their fresh perspective. You can get too close to the problem. So close you can’t think objectively about it any more; this is quite common. Talk the problem over with a peer, trusted advisor or someone in a related field. They might put a fresh light on your problem helping you get to a solution faster.

If no one can solve the problem, call it officially unsolvable and move on to the next project as quickly as possible. 

Member marketing is solving a series of tough problems. How do you attract members? Engage members? And retain members? Learn about problem-solving tactics and modern member marketing on
www.smooththepath.net where Amanda Kaiser also discusses marketing strategy, story telling for members, innovation and member insights. Find her on Twitter at @SmoothThePath

Image source:  Question - courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Monday, 07 July 2014 at 8:30 AM


  • Lance Leasure said:

    Monday, 07 July 2014 at 10:29 AM
    Excellent post Amanda! I particularly like the sequence of your steps and that you included Step 5. This is a difficult place for many to go (or admit they may need to go). I've been on both sides of the relationship when an external perspective allowed for a speedy solution that no one internally had considered. Thanks for sharing!
  • Amanda Kaiser said:

    Monday, 07 July 2014 at 1:55 PM
    Lance, thanks so much! You are right. I think this is quite common - we've all been too close to a big problem when a fresh set of thoughts can really help.

    I also have bonus idea #6 for you. I am intrigued by the role that mindset plays in problem solving, moving forward and in our work lives in general. This morning I listened to a totally unrelated podcast and found a gem of an idea. Think of problems not as problems (bad) but instead as puzzles to be worked out (an exciting challenge). I love the way they played with reframing beliefs and how helpful that can be. [If you are interested, the podcast was the latest from The Good Life Project where host Jonathan Fields talked to Aviva Romm about medicine 3.0 and exciting new possibilities in healthcare.]

    Thanks for commenting!
  • Lance Leasure said:

    Tuesday, 08 July 2014 at 9:47 AM
    Thanks for the recommendation. I'll check it out! Mindset seems so crucial to #1, it could almost be #1.5 instead of #6. Great post! Thanks for the follow. I'm looking forward to reading more of your ideas!
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