Merge's Blog

Insist that your employees be problem solvers, not problem identifiers

ProblemSolvingSome employees are serial “problem identifiers” – they’re very good at telling you what’s wrong. Whether they’re talking about a process, a person, another department, or even their own jobs, they’re adept at pinpointing and vocalizing what is amiss. But then the unspoken assumption is that it’s your job (because you’re the boss) to fix it. And unfortunately, many managers and supervisors blindly stumble into this trap (see Why do managers have a tendency to do rather than coach? and Do you tell or do you ask?). Don’t. Make it a point to insist that your employees bring you solutions, not problems.

Require that your people become “problem solvers” instead of “problem identifiers”. And as a leader, you can drive this. Put his phrase in your communication library – “How do you think this [insert issue] should be solved or fixed?” When an employee identifies a problem, hold back the urge to jump in with a possible solution. Instead, ask “What do you think the solution is?”, and then wait for a response. Don’t settle for “I don’t know,” push back and continue to probe for a response.

There are two huge benefits to insisting that your employees bring you solutions, not problems. First, chances are you’ll get a better resolution, particularly if the complaint is about an issue that the employee is familiar with. Who better to tell you how to remove a process bottleneck than the person who is doing the job?! Second, it reduces the whining mentality. When people know that repeatedly complaining about something means that they’ll be required to help fix it, they are much more prudent in what they choose to criticize or grumble about.

So what has been your experience with problem identifiers and problem solvers? What are you doing to ensure more of the latter and less of the former? Please share.

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