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ATD Blog

Stop Pushing and Pulling—Train for Problem Solving and Decision Making

Monday, June 25, 2018

Organizations rarely provide ongoing training for problem solving and decision making skills development to their C-suite or executive employees, let alone junior leaders or managers. Choosing to train these skills is a strategic decision. If your organization has not trained these skills before, this could be a multiyear, multi-generational strategic solve—but well worth the effort and investment. Let’s consider two case studies.

Case Study 1: The Pull and Push Culture

Let’s consider for a moment a day in the life of a high-performing employee, Mary, who is a project manager in the contracts and finance department of a pharmaceutical sales company. Mary is always looking for opportunities to develop others and frequently volunteers for special assignments. She is the first to register for all mandatory learning events, and frequently reaches out for more development opportunities. One day, Mary is presented with a performance gap. A new vendor relationship with her organization requires her to submit additional forms to accounts payable, which will adjust her daily rhythm and flow—this causes her some anxiety. Being very organized, Mary feels she needs training on this new process and the new vendor relationship. So, in accordance with her organization’s culture, Mary searches the learning management system (LMS) for courses on “time management,” “vendor relationships,” “managing stress,” and so on. She learns that she has already taken all these courses and there is currently no additional training course on the new forms. Mary is at a loss for how to proceed, so she goes to her supervisor looking for support.

Performance gaps exist in every organization, and for many employees there is no training for them to proactively “pull” from the LMS, nor does the organization yet have training developed to passively “push” to their employees in need. What are your employees to do? Unfortunately, by the time this performance gap is discovered by your learning organization, customers have been lost, resources wasted, and inefficiencies have continued. Above and beyond this, many bad habits are created as a result, and this in turn results in further performance gaps.


Case Study 2: The Problem Solving and Decision Making Culture

Jason Carter was just promoted from a compliance specialist position to a leadership position within the compliance department. After his initial onboarding, Jason meets the chief compliance officer and is introduced to his new team. One of Jason’s team members, John, is unmotivated to fulfill his responsibilities—mainly completing timely compliance reports in accordance with the Bank Secrecy Act—and is not staying on track with his career development plan. After an analysis of John, Jason realizes John is capable, but unmotivated. Jason was never trained in how to motivate an underperforming employee, but he has had training on how to solve problems and make decisions. After dusting off his notes, he intentionally works through the problem-solving and decision-making process.

Jason develops a clear plan and systematic course of action, and determines the best solutions. Once the solution is determined, it is offered to John—this is an example of a push method.


To determine the best solutions, Jason lays out his problem statement, courses of action (COA), COA rankings, and recommendations visually in a decision quad chart. Visualizing the process of problem solving and decision making makes it easier to communicate to your leaders and employees the logic you used in drawing your conclusions.

To see Jason’s quad chart and analysis, come back next week for the second part of this post.

Scott Pitts will be presenting The Innovative Change Agent: Systematizing Innovation for Effective Change Management at ATD's Talent Development Across Industries (TDI) in October at Yale University.

About the Author

Scott Pitts has spent nearly two decades in the learning and organization development professions, 16 of which have been in the financial services industry. Prior to his current role as a learning strategist for a major financial services firm, he created and led a learning department for the largest bank in Missouri not headquartered in a metro market. Currently, he partners with executives to recommend firm-wide learning and organization development solutions. Scott has performed and led nearly all learning functions as defined by ATD.

Scott is also an associate adjunct professor of training and development, as well as organization development and change, at the Walker School of Business at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri. Scott is also serving as a captain (promotable) in the United States Army Reserves for the 7th Psychological Operations Group in Mountain View, California. Scott is active in serving the Army and his local community by training local educators, clergy, and behavioral health professionals on suicide intervention. He also serves on the Business Education Advisory Board for Mineral Area College in Park Hills, Missouri, where he advises department leaders on curriculum enhancements to train future business leaders in Southeast Missouri.

Scott's idea of good self-care is sitting on his porch on his six acres of Missouri woods with cold beverage in hand, Darius Rucker playing, and his kids exploring the woods.

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