Posted: 01 Jun. 2020 5 min. read

The chemistry of breakthrough results

No matter what business you're in, chances are you’re facing some pretty tough problems these days. Not only that, but it’s more than a little bit likely you’ll continue to face tough problems in the future. Indeed, those are both probably serious understatements. 2020 has so far been extremely challenging, to say the least, and the future is quite unclear.

Of course, organizations had plenty of problems in need of solving even before the COVID-19 global pandemic. And in the Deloitte Greenhouse, we’ve been interested for a while in how people go about tackling really tough challenges. So in 2019, we asked 9,000 professionals just that question, and we found that there are probably as many specific techniques for problem-solving in the workplace as there are potential problems, but there are also broad commonalities in how people tame their most difficult challenges. In this post, I’ll share just a little bit about what we found in our study of problem-solving, and I’ll introduce an upcoming series of posts about the Deloitte Greenhouse Breakthrough Manifesto, which outlines 10 principles of problem-solving that we use when we’re looking for breakthrough results.

But first, our study results. In response to our question about solving really tough problems, equal numbers of people focus on the problem itself and on the potential solutions. A smaller number take a step back to consider the big picture or overall goal of solving the problem in the first place. Some people look to the past or to similar problems to see what they can learn about the current problem, while some look ahead to how they’ll test solutions or implement them. And the majority of people don’t tackle problems alone, but look to others for help in all stages of problem-solving. These are the commonalities we identify in people’s approaches, but lo and behold, we also find some connections between people's Business Chemistry type and how they talk about problem-solving.

Responses from Guardians and Drivers are more likely than those from Pioneers and Integrators to focus on the problem itself. Both of these types talk about analyzing a problem and all its related details before trying to solve it. For Guardians, this often means gathering as much information as they can and homing in on the facts, whereas Drivers emphasize breaking a problem down into its component parts or conducting research in an effort to fully understand it.

When they do mention the problem before jumping into solutions, Pioneers share with Drivers a tendency to talk about defining the problem (just what are we solving for?) and making an effort to identify its root cause. And Integrators, followed by Pioneers, are most likely to mention bringing others into the discussion and asking for their input. Guardians and Drivers are less likely to refer to involving others.

When it comes to the responses focused on solutions, Guardians are more likely than other types to mention looking to the past (borrowing from how similar problems have been solved), and also the future (planning the steps for implementing solutions). Drivers are the most likely type to talk about evaluating the options and developing hypotheses about the efficacy of various solutions. Pioneers share with Drivers a focus on testing solutions and using creative approaches. Pioneers also highlight the importance of creating environments where people feel comfortable sharing their ideas. And just like in the responses about the problem itself, when discussing solutions, Integrators and Pioneers have a tendency to mention involving others, brainstorming with teams, and engaging diverse perspectives.

Now, unless there is something wildly unique about your team, I'd guess you probably do a lot of these same things when faced with a tough problem. And none of these approaches is wrong. Indeed, many are time-tested and shown to produce positive outcomes. But in the Deloitte Greenhouse, our goal is to go beyond business as usual, and over and above positive outcomes, to achieve truly breakthrough results. 

Through our work with thousands of leaders and teams facing thorny challenges, we've identified 10 principles that foster breakthrough. They don’t replace more traditional problem-solving techniques; rather, they can amp up both the process and the results. These 10 principles comprise our Breakthrough Manifesto, which describes how we work in the Deloitte Greenhouse. If you’re looking to achieve breakthrough yourself, you might consider working this way, too. My upcoming posts will be chock-full of ideas and strategies for how you and your team can make a mess, get real, and dial up the drama as you’re tackling your toughest challenges.

Experience our Breakthrough Manifesto

But this is the Business Chemistry blog, after all, so what’s the connection there? Well, it’s going to take a bit more than one post to explain all of that, which is precisely why I'm embarking on this blog series. Each of my next 10 posts will highlight one Breakthrough Manifesto principle, why it matters, what role Business Chemistry might play, and how you and your team can apply the principle in your own pursuit of breakthrough.

For now, I’ll simply say that these principles can be beneficial for people and teams of all Business Chemistry types, yet individual principles might be more naturally embraced by some types than others. Exploring the Breakthrough Manifesto with a Business Chemistry overlay can help you understand how to engage and leverage the strengths of team members of all types when you have a challenge that’s out of the ordinary.

Curious to learn more? That’s a great first step to breakthrough! Read my next post, which focuses on the first Breakthrough Manifesto principle, strip away everything.

And if you simply can't wait to learn more about our Breakthrough Manifesto or how the Deloitte Greenhouse Experience might help your team attain breakthrough results, explore and get in touch here.

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Suzanne Vickberg (aka Dr. Suz)

Suzanne Vickberg (aka Dr. Suz)

Research Lead | Deloitte LLP

Dr. Suz is a social-personality psychologist and a leading practitioner of Deloitte’s Business Chemistry, which she uses to guide clients as they explore how their work is shaped by the mix of individuals who make up a team. Previously serving in Deloitte’s Talent organization, since 2014 she’s been coaching leaders and teams in creating cultures that enable each member to thrive and make their best contribution. Along with her Deloitte Greenhouse colleague Kim Christfort, Suzanne co-authored the book Business Chemistry: Practical Magic for Crafting Powerful Work Relationships as well as a Harvard Business Review cover feature on the same topic. She also leads the Deloitte Greenhouse research program focused on Business Chemistry and is the primary author of the Business Chemistry blog. An “unapologetic introvert” and Business Chemistry Guardian-Dreamer, you will never-the-less often find her in front of a room, a camera, or a podcast microphone speaking about Business Chemistry. Suzanne is a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate with an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business and a doctorate in Social-Personality Psychology from the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. She has lectured at Rutgers Business School and several colleges in the CUNY system, and before joining Deloitte in 2009, she gained experience in the health care and consulting fields. A mom of two teenagers, she maintains her native Minnesota roots and currently resides in New Jersey, where she volunteers for several local organizations with a focus on hunger relief.