Whole Foods CEO shares the No. 1 green flag he looks for in employees: ‘That's what I love and get excited about'

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When he's hiring or collaborating with someone, Jason Buechel, the CEO of grocery store giant Whole Foods, looks for strong problem-solving skills. That's the No. 1 green-flag trait he keeps an eye out for, he says.

"At the end of the day, I'm a problem solver. That's what I love and get excited about," the 46-year-old tells CNBC Make It. "I gravitate towards people who love problem solving, and [use the skill] to solve things that help the organization, help our stakeholders [and] our team members."

One of Buechel's favorite parts about group seminars and "professional development" sessions is the opportunity to collaborate with his colleagues and brainstorm solutions to obstacles facing "different parts of the company," he adds.

A four-step method to solving problems on the job

Different people have different approaches to solving problems at work. Someone may curate a team of professionals that can put their heads together. Another person may turn to research to gather information.

However, there's another underutilized problem-solving hack that almost anyone can use. It's called design thinking — a method created for professionals in project design, but has since evolved, according to Harvard University's Business Insights Blog.

Doing it is fairly simple:

  1. Get clear on a problem in the workplace and the people it affects
  2. Brainstorm as many solutions as possible
  3. Narrow down your ideas and home in on the most feasible ones
  4. Execute the strongest idea, getting feedback from your colleagues and managers during the process

"Using this framework, you can generate innovative ideas that wouldn't have surfaced otherwise," writes Catherine Cote, a marketing coordinator for Harvard Business School Online.

'My best idea didn't come when I was sitting tied to a desk'

Being too close to a problem can make it harder to solve. Think back to the last time you were stumped on something at work — maybe you sat at your desk for a long while hoping an answer would jump out at you.

In those situations, a change of scenery can help, Deborah Golden, Deloitte's chief innovation officer, told Make It last year.

Going on walks, starting meetings with an exercise, or doing quick tasks to "refresh your brain" can all get those creative problem-solving juices flowing, Golden said.

"Have a walking meeting," suggested Golden. Taking a 30-minute walk with a colleague, "no laptops, no phones," helped rejuvenate their ability to focus and think clearly.

Come up with brain refreshers that you can do in one-minute, five-minute and 15-minute increments, from taking a quick nap to doing a word search, she added.

"My best idea didn't come when I was sitting tied to a desk," she said. "It came when I was outside, when I was in the shower, when I was on a plane, when I was listening to music, when I was running ... That's when the ideas come."

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Buechel is 46 years old, as of the publication date.

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