Originally published: 06/04/2019 08:38
Publication number: ELQ-75119-1
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Don’t Bring me Problems, Bring me Solutions. How to Train Employees to Solve their own Problems

Why are some people more prone to solve problems on their own?

I once saw a sign on a business owners’ desk that said don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions. It reminded me of the challenges managing people in an organization.

If a leader/manager is stuck solving everyone’s problems how can he or she make any progress on new projects? This is a common problem that plagues many organizations, but it can be solved.

The Leader as Savior
In the old Disney cartoon Mickey Mouse, Mickey would be there to fly in and save the day when there was a crisis.

Many leaders and managers have this tendency but acting as the rescuer does not empower employees to use their own resources to solve problems. It teaches them to rely on the boss, someone who knows best with higher authority. But an organization cannot grow if this type of behavior persists.

Why are some people more prone to solve problems on their own? I have not done formal studies on this other than what I have learned through leadership training, experience and from observing myself and others. Fear and lower self-esteem seem to be the major culprits.
If someone has lower self-esteem they may have been hurt in the past and this could cause them to play safe and avoid risk. Avoiding risk can also be a personality or type of person trait. Some people have a greater fear of risk than others and prefer being told what to do. The more self-confident someone is the easier it is to face problems and find solutions.

Some people who had a controlling style boss who they approached with ideas and were put down may have developed a why bother attitude and may still behave according to that experience. But this may be easily rectified with the solutions I propose.

Best Solutions
When an employee approaches you to solve their problem you need to switch gears from being the problem solver to the coach by asking questions. Asking questions gets them to think about how they can solve the problem on their own. This is training them to use their own resources.

Here are some questions you can use to engage the person in problem solving.
 What is the problem?
 What are some ways you think you can solve this problem?
 Have you been faced with this or a similar problem in the past? If so, how did you handle it?
 You seem to be missing information, where can you find it?
 Who can be a resource for you to resolve this?
 Based on our discussion, what are the next steps to solving this issue?

You want to help the employee formulate action steps to take to solve the problem based on their answers to your questions. If there proposed actions do not make sense to you let them know why but do it diplomatically.

You also want to take notes so you can recall the conversation and commitments to action. Agree on a follow-up date to meet for review.

Remember to recognize the success the person is having in solving the problem, whether it’s a small step or the whole problem.

Story Telling
Storytelling can be a powerful tool to educate and inspire people to act. If you had a similar problem from the past that you solved, you can tell a story about it.

The approach described here is to deal with employees who lack their own initiative or are afraid to solve problems on their own. If someone comes to you occasionally with complex problems out of their skill set of course you need to dive in and help them solve it or provide the resources.

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