4 Steps to Enhance your Organizations Problem-Solving Culture

3 min read

“Culture”, or in this article’s context – an organization’s problem-solving culture, is such a hard concept to grasp and even harder to evaluate.  While we cannot “see” the culture of an organization, we can determine what kind of culture exists through careful observations of what we can actually see; human behaviors.

There are many theories that define culture, such as “Ethnography,” “Cultural Relativism” and “Structural Functionalism.” From a practitioner’s viewpoint, I did not have much time to explore these theories or attempt to apply them at the many nuclear power plants, National Laboratories and nuclear weapons sites that I visited. Instead, I came to rely on a very basic but powerful way to reverse-engineer what type of culture existed at any of these organizations. It starts with this simple equation:


By observing behaviors, we can better understand what the organization truly values, and what their true beliefs are. So it follows that to change a culture, we must find a way to change/modify behaviors from the current set to a new set of (better) behaviors. With this explanation as a backdrop, I can now discuss how an organization may go about enhancing two types of cultures that are of particular importance in my line of work; continuous improvement and problem-solving.

Continuous Improvement:

There is a widely held misconception that “continuous improvement” is a philosophy or a concept that every organization should aspire to achieve. That is not so: it is a specific set of programs and processes that must be successfully implemented in order to achieve continuous improvement. These programs and processes include:

  • Performance Monitoring Systems
  • Condition Reporting Systems
  • Corrective Action Programs
  • Causal Analysis Programs (including RCAs)
  • Human Performance & Error Prevention Programs
  • Self-Assessments & Independent Assessments
  • Lessons Learned and Operating Experience
  • Benchmarking



One of the critical elements of a continuous improvement culture is the ability to analyze problems and identify the causes so they can be corrected. Without this critical function, there cannot be real improvement. Unfortunately, the key problem-solving process called Causal Analysis is not well understood or implemented in many industries. There are many tools that can be used to perform causal analysis, but the most common tools currently in use are mostly antiquated and personnel do not have the experience to use them effectively. The results are that many “improvements” are incremental at best, as the causal analyses efforts that are currently in use will uncover and address the symptoms and not the deepest-seated causes. Which brings us to the tip of the week.

Tip of the Week:

To improve a culture, we have to modify our organizations’ behaviors. And to do that means we have to change their value system and what they believe to be true. To get there, establish an 18 to 24 month project that can accomplish the following basic tasks:

  • Study the current set of behaviors.
  • Define a new set of desired behaviors.
  • Identify how to communicate and reinforce those new, desired behaviors.
  • Start reinforcing those new, desired behaviors and don’t stop until everyone exhibits those desired behaviors. This also means leading by example.


To improve your Continuous Improvement Culture, establish, maintain and reinforce the use of the programs listed above. Most of those programs do not produce widgets, so production hawks would not pay much attention to them. Many organizations don’t have these programs because there are no legal or contractual requirements to do so. If that’s your case, there is little chance of establishing a culture of continuous improvement at your organization.

To improve your Problem-Solving Culture, train personnel on the practical applications of critical thinking (the foundation for complex problem-solving) and teach them the most modern approaches to causal analysis in their industry. Then, reinforce the use of both critical thinking and complex problem solving in day-to-day operations. If your causal analysis toolkit still contains the Fishbone, Events & Causal Factors Charts and the Five Why’s, you are getting around in a horse and buggy while others are driving a Ferrari. If you don’t have a scalable methodology that can be used every day on simple problems, as well as for the most complex of problems, then it’s not being used very often and personnel are not actively improving their problem-solving skills.

For more information on improving your continuous improvement and problem-solving cultures, visit us at: https://bluedragon1-ips.com/

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