Science & Tech

When problem-solving is a problem

1 min read

Business student Anita Tucker's troubleshooting addresses root causes of nurses' dilemmas

If an ill-timed delivery left them short of linens, nurses observed by Harvard Business School doctoral student Anita Tucker found a way to borrow from another unit. Such initiative taking by empowered frontline workers is a good thing, right? Well, yes. And no. The bad news, said Tucker, is that the root causes of the problems went unaddressed and thus continued. Tucker’s research, much of it in collaboration with HBS Professor Kent Bowen, Associate Professor Amy Edmondson, and Assistant Professor Steven Spear, is attracting attention both for its findings and its methods. Tucker found that busy hospital nurses, especially the most experienced ones, deftly negotiated the many minor problems that came up during their shifts, solving them quickly and returning to care for their patients with a feeling of satisfaction. They rarely, however, took action to address the root of the problem. “What we saw is that the nurses focus on the individual patient, getting that patient what that patient needs. It’s all the nurses can do to get that done to the level that they want, so there’s nothing left over,” said Tucker. “And there’s no organizational mechanism to learn from these individual failures.”