When Your Boss Says, “Don’t Bring me a Problem, Bring me a Solution”

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problem solving strategies

If you are in Industry for a while, you must have heard the statement “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions”. The advocates of this idea say, this brings empowerment among the employees and reduces complaining.  Though, this might not be the case always.

According to an article published in Harvard Business review, Wharton professor Adam Grant says:

“Solution Only- thinking creates “a culture of advocacy instead of one of inquiry” where each person comes into a situation locked into their way of solving the problem and lobbies hard for that particular solution rather than considering multiple perspectives.

Grant says: “most of the creativity, most innovation happens when somebody points out a problem that’s not yet been solved”.

Before going further, first, you need to understand the difference between discussing a problem and complaining. When you are working towards creating an atmosphere where people feel open to discuss their concerns, in the same time, you need to put a check on the complaining habits of them.

The best way to understand the difference is, complains comes with words like “always” or “never”. For example, “this team always comes late” or “this group always miss the deadlines”. Complaints don’t show accountability to any person.

While talking about the actual problem statement, it comes with facts and figures like, “this team came late 3 times in last week” or “this group has missed the deadlines 4 times in last 3 months  and 2  times we had to work over the weekends to work with that group on deadlines so that the client should not suffer “. In a problem statement, accountability is created as the person understands their part of the problem area.

Only bring me a solution approach can cause your employees to shut down and can prevent the problems from surfacing until there is a crisis.

So, how to make it better?

  1. Encourage openness in conversation.

For employees, it takes courage to come and talk openly about the problems they are facing and of which they have no idea how to solve it.  When you are encouraging your employees to talk openly, there are many issues which you can address while it is at the surface level and can prevent the crisis situation.

If you want to build up a culture of Innovation and creativity, inquiries must be welcomed. People should feel free to ask and discuss.

2. Make employees understand the difference between complaints and problem statements.

As an organization, you also need to ensure you are not encouraging the complaint culture in the company. Employees must be taught on how to identify the problem statement and how to present it to their manager. As mentioned in the article above, they should understand the personal accountability and identify the problem statement.

3. Stay Approachable to your employees.

Bill Gates in his book “Business at the Speed of Though” says, The most important job as a CEO is to listen to the bad news and fix it.

One of my colleagues used to have this solution only approach. Every time his team used to discuss the problem statement, he used to refuse it mentioning “bring me the solution and not the problem”. The solution which team used to propose, he used to reject them. Ultimately, the situation became, where the team only used to share the good news with him and didn’t share any bad news. He used to stay unaware of the problems until the major escalation or crisis happened.  You must ensure your employees find you approachable enough to meet and discuss the problem areas.

4. Listen attentively

Once you have taken out some time to have a discussion with the employee, listen attentively to what he has to say. There might be a possibility, that he is not the right person to whom the task has been assigned hence is finding it challenging. Or, there might be a possibility that the person has all the skills required but doesn’t have sufficient resources, where he needs your help, or he just needs guidance from you to accomplish his work.

5. Teach problem-solving real time

If you encourage a culture where employees are able to identify the problem statement and work on it while presenting it to the management, half of the battle is won. They must know how to proceed with the problem statement. According to an article published in Forbes, below mentioned steps can be considered for this approach.

a. Identify the problem area.

Understand the root cause of the problem. “Why” is a very strong factor which can help them in dig deeper in understanding the cause of the problem?

b. Determine Solution

Determine the criteria or objective which should be considered while looking for the solution. They could be either a time frame to be matched or a revenue figure to be achieved or the cost to be prevented.

c. Look for potential solution

Before approaching the management, brainstorm on all potential solutions which could be applied or implemented.

d. Analyze

Once you have done the brainstorming and having identified the potential solutions, analyze each solution on which one makes the most sense and fits the criteria you have.

e. Select the best one

Select the best solution after the analysis you have done and be prepared with the points on why you think it is the best solution.

f. Implementation Plan

Once you have identified the best solution of the problem you are facing, think towards “How” factor. That is how you are going to implement it. What budget and resources you would need.

g. Document

Once you are done with your plan, document it in a crisp manner.

h. Meet the management

It’s time to meet the management and discuss the same openly. Your discussion should include the concern areas, the best solution you think and openness for the inputs and help.

When you are in business and employees are working for you, they are always going to have problems. The best way is to stay open and create a constructive environment where employees feel empowered and get support in innovation and getting the solution by working together.