Bring Me Solutions Not Problems

My comments on: No Problem Without a Solution [I removed the broken link]

I understand that most managers feel that their employees should not bring them problems. Instead, expressed in the most positive way, employees should fix things or bring possible improvements. However, I think that is poor management.

I understand there may well be more detail than you provide that adds a more sensible (but more complex) reaction that stated in your post about your situation. However, there are many example, of bosses that expect their people not to bring them “bad news” not to bring them “problems” and that attitude is exactly wrong in my opinion.

What they are saying is: if you know of a problem but don’t know of a solution I would rather we continue to have that problem than admit some of my staff don’t know how to fix it (and then have to deal with it myself – maybe then having to accept responsibility for results instead of just blaming you if I am never told and there is a problem later…). I think that is setting exactly the wrong expectations.

Employees should fix things. They should bring solutions to managers to improve things that might be out of their ability to fix. But if they know of a problem and not a solution and a manager tells the employee they don’t want to be brought problems then I don’t want that manager.

If an employee never learns how to find possible solutions themselves that is not a good sign. But it is much, much better to bring problems to management’s attention than to fail to do so because they know the manager thinks that doing so is weak. It is the attitude that problems are not to be shared that is weak, in my opinion.

Related: Management Training ProgramEuropean Blackout: Human Error or System ErrorHow to ImproveRespect for People (Understanding Psychology)Don’t Empower

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8 Responses to Bring Me Solutions Not Problems

  1. I (shamefully) admit that I used to be one of these managers, although with a slightly different twist. I would tell them “Don’t tell me what’s wrong without being able to tell me what you think is right. If you don’t have an idea or opinion on what’s right, how can you tell me what exists now is wrong?” Obviously this applied to procedural issues, not equipment.

    I also used to say “Anyone can complain. Bring me a solution that you’ve already tried or one that you want to try and tell me what help you need to try it. If all you do is complain, then I’ll just go out and hire minimum wage people who will do nothing but complain just like you, only they’ll do it for a lost less money: I’ll be exactly where I am today – all complaints and no solutions – but it will cost us less money.” I also used to be the boss that would say to my managers “If I have to tell you what to do and manage your department for you, why do I need you?”

    Man, was I a jerk.

    I have long since amended my way of thinking. Many b-schools and shake-and-bake management courses (ie. the ones you attend for a week or two and suddenly you’re a genius, complete with a certificate) use the Pareto principle to state that “80% of problems or issues are the fault of management, and only 20% are from employees”. I disagree. I say it’s 100% management.

    Problems or issues occur because:
    -“Management” has failed to properly train employees, or
    -Management has trained employees but failed to check for or recognize that the skill set was learned (knowledge transfer), or
    -Management has trained employees and transferred the knowledge and skill set but failed to provide the environment, tools, and support for the employee to succeed at implementing the skills they’ve learned, or
    -Management has provided the training, tools, environment and support but has failed to recognize that an employee is not suitable for the job / assignment and had failed to take action to move the employee into a position that fits their skill set or to “give them an opportunity to succeed at another company”.

    Anyway you slice it, it falls back on management. That’s what I believe and practice now. Maybe I’m overdoing it as a penance for being such an ass in my earlier management career, but I’ve found that I’ve had a much easier time “managing” people and actually being able to “lead” them now instead of constantly worrying about how I was going to have to fix their problems for them.

    Train, equip, and support your employees and you won’t have them bringing you problems without solutions anymore. In fact, you may never even know about some of the problems because they will have already been detected, diagnosed and remedied long before now.

    PS. The challenge has two answers, depending on where you place the parentheses.

  2. Frank Roche says:

    Hi John…well, you have me thinking. I would still defend the “no problem without a solution” this way: Too many employees want to pitch problems over the wall. That particular boss I talked about was excellent at pushing on critical thinking. At that time I was working in polymer physics, and that kind of work required real analytics and postulating.

    I hear what you’re saying about the risk of managers making it so that ees only bring good news. That, as you say, is bad management. Horrible. I hate that risk. So, I think there may be a dialectic here…no problem without a solution as long as it’s authentic and encourages honest communication. Ees should be free to fail (as long as it’s not abject stupidity or negligence) and they should use their manager for guidance. But managers aren’t managing children, and having ees think through solutions is part of the growth. It reminds me of when I used to ask when I was a kid, ‘Dad, how do you spell….” He’d say, did you look it up? He could have spelled it for me…or he could help me think through it. I always valued that he would have me look it up.

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  4. Sudharak says:

    I would recommend that the manager goes and studies the problem along with the complaining person. Then they jointly decide what to do. This way the leadership would be strengthened. If the boss has no time to study, they at least she should go and see the problem first hand. Any visible interest from the boss always helps to keep the motivation level high.

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  7. Eli Lopian says:

    I say “Having no solved problems is the biggest problem of all.”
    Bring me your solved problems.

    just blogged about it

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