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Problem Solving and Decision-Making Skills

What is a Good Problem Solving Assessment?

What is a Good Problem Solving Assessment?

Good problem solving skills or the ability to identify solutions to problems in a systematic manner is an ability which acts to empower individuals in both their professional or working, as well as in their personal lives. Many organizations are therefore increasingly recognizing that knowledge and skills in problem-solving and decision-making is not only valuable but may well be a key differentiating factor in an increasingly high tech, ever-changing and fast-moving global economy. 

Recent research has identified the following ten aspects of problem solving as crucial to success in organizations of all sizes and types. This is the ability to:

  • test assumptions by taking data and circumstances into account;
  • apply a range of different possible strategies to problem solving;
  • utilize a range of tools appropriately to help solve problem;
  • use mathematical and risk calculations, including cost management to solve problems;
  • show independence and initiative in identifying problems and solving them;
  • develop creative, innovative solutions;
  • develop practical implementable solutions;
  • solve problems collaboratively or in teams;
  • apply or extrapolate problem solving strategies from one area to another; and
  • wisely resolve client or customer concerns in relation to problems experienced.

So how can we assess whether leaders of teams or even individuals on teams have at least some of the above skills sets, or the aptitude to develop these skills? Well, most of the above are not so much about style but are about competency and can therefore be described in specific competencies. These competencies are as follows:

CRITICAL THINKING: looks at an individual’s capacity to think rigorously and broadly about issues, challenges or problems and to optimize his or her route to finding potential solutions that work. This competency category asks the question “With how much confidence do you believe in your own open-mindedness and ability to solve problems of many types through the successful application of your personal thinking and judgment?”

DATA GATHERING AND PROCESSING: looks at the extent to which an individual systematically and comprehensively gathers the information that he or she needs to solve problems efficiently and effectively. This competency category asks the question “How well do you assemble all the relevant data and organize and categorize it for further analysis?”

LATERAL CONCEPTUALIZATION: looks at the extent to which an individual looks to bring in ideas, hypotheses or even potential solutions that are not the most ‘immediate or most obvious’ to others. This competency category asks the question “To what extent do you actively move outside the realm of ‘conventional’ thinking and ideas to create new insights or opportunities?”

RISK ASSESSMENT: looks at the extent to which an individual systematically calculates implications of potential courses of action or decisions. This competency category asks the question “How effectively do you engage in the formal assessment of the consequences of suggested solutions to problems?”

TOOL SELECTION SKILLS: looks at how effectively an individual determines how the ‘process’ of solving a problem, or making a decision, should ‘unfold’ or be designed. This competency category asks the question “How well do you understand a range of problem solving tools or techniques and use the right one in the right circumstances?”

ALTERNATIVE WEIGHING ABILITY: looks at the extent to which an individual fairly assesses data, ideas, options and possibilities to ensure the best decisions are likely to be made, drawing on his or her own experience and those of others, where necessary. This competency category asks the question “How effectively do you evaluate competing alternatives on a reasonable comparative basis?”

PERCEPTION AND JUDGMENT: looks at the extent to which an individual effectively synthesizes what he or she sees, hears or senses in order to form a clear view of what may be viable and practical as a cause of executable action. This competency category asks the question “How well do you assimilate information and interpret what you experience to make good sense of it to make a decision?”

Once we have a set of competencies such as the above, we can readily ask questions relating to each of these which assess an individual’s current knowledge or skills and better appreciate where gaps occur which we can then address specifically in the future with training or coaching. And rather than having to do this work from scratch, the problem solving effectiveness profile from RTM has already fully developed this assessment and it can be seen here.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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