“DON’T JUST TELL ME WHAT THE PROBLEM IS, COME WITH A SOLUTION!”
Does this sound like a familiar saying you’ve heard in the work place? Truth is, whilst those words sound plausible on the face of it as a generally accepted axiom, leaders and managers who liberally adopt this gambit may be missing a number of opportunities.
Firstly, not all people are made equal! Some are just wired differently, which means their thinking patterns are different, their ability to problem solve is different, their ability to recognise patterns is different, their creative capacity is different, … and so on and so forth! When someone says “come with a solution” they’re assuming that the person in question has all the necessary skills, experience and wherewithall to be able to effectively navigate all the way from problem definition to viable solution generation.
As a minimum, it would be expected that ‘the person with the problem‘ is able to come up with an accurate problem definition, is able to identify all the interdependencies of the problem, is a critical thinker, has creative thinking ability, can generate multiple options/opportunities, has the necessary rational evaluation skills and tools to assess the different options/opportunties, and is able to make a rational cost-benefit judgement in proposing one or more potential solutions! That’s a lot to ask for in one individual, and certainly, those intellectual, academic and other experiential resources don’t always come neatly packaged in all employees. Also some people are more adept at solution creation on their own, others in a team scenario, yet others prefer a blend of both over a period of time during which they may prefer to do some research.
When uttering the words “come with a solution”, the leader/manager’s expectation is automatically contingent on the assumption that the ‘person with the problem’ possesses all the requisite skills, experience and environmental support factors needed to indeed ‘come up with a solution’. This assumption makes little reference to the resource needs of that individual, their development needs, their preferred work style, their social integration and cohesion with their peers, and many other factors. It also pays little heed to the mentoring and coaching role expected of leaders and managers in the work place. These critical building blocks are simply abdicated and the individual is left to ‘sink or swim’, with potentially devastating and demotivating outcomes, damage to self esteem and damage to self worth, none of which make for a more effective employee.
As a guide then, when employees articulate problems (which in certain instances may take some courage), consider all the opportunties presenting themselves, such as:
- What do we really understand about the nature of the probem at hand, where does it begin and end, what are the interdependencies both upstearm and downstream, what are the impacts to the business, what are the impacts on people, what are the impacts on our technologies, processes and systems, and what are the impacts on governance, risk and compliance, etc.?
- What could ‘the team’ collectively learn by collaborating on the resolution of this problem and how does this aid the organisational memory and knowledge management?
- What individual or team learning and development opportunties does this present us with and who would stand to gain the most benefit (e.g. interns, newbies, fast-track candidates, etc.)?
- Who else has experienced something similar and how did they solve it, and what can we learn from other organisations in this regard?
- Who shoud be involved in the problem definition and solution generation process, with which other parts of the organisation could we enhance existing relationships or forge new relationships with, and who are the subject matter experts in this area who could provide critical inputs?
- How could we enhance our problem solving capabilities, what critical and creative thinking techniques could we employ to solve this problem – which would be most appropriate?
- What low-cost low-risk trials could we employ to test our solution hypothesis without breaking the proverbial bank?
- What coaching and/or mentoring opportunties are presenting themslves?
- How does this assist in the further development of the leader or manager themselves?
Whilst the preceding list is not exhaustive, the above opportunties obviously depend on the nature and complexity of the issue at hand. Nevertheless, when next you hear the words “Don’t just tell me what the problem is, come with a solution!”, remember the wealth of opportunties each problem may actually present the organisation, and take a stand for learning, … individual learning, team learning, leadership learning and organisational learning!