|| Print ||
|Friday, March 21, 2014|
TOM COX | OB BLOGGER
Here’s how to help your staff solve their own problems.
At a recent talk to HR Directors, I asked if they saw leaders trying to solve every problem, instead of delegating to and empowering staff.
Every head nodded. Every single one.
Mine too. In fact, I see leaders (at every level) clustering at the extremes — they either take over problems, or simply abandon staff to “figure it out” for themselves (properly known as “abdication”).
How to Delegate Problem-Solving
Delegation lies between these extremes. Most leaders haven’t been taught how to delegate. Here’s the process I teach. You should make sure every manager and supervisor who reports to you is following this method — or a better one.
First, get your arms around the problem.
A problem usually arrives in the form of a complaint. This can be “we don’t like the coffee” or “Joe showed up for work drunk” or “we lack money to finish the expansion that would earn us more money.”
And there are two common emotional reactions leaders have to a complaint, depending on whether they’re in Relating mode or Requiring mode.
Relaters want the complaint to go away by fixing the problem or making the complainer feel better. They’ll say things like “let me help you” or “I’ll fix that for you.”
Requirers want to crush the complainer, or make them be quiet. They’ll say things like “don’t whine” or “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.” (Which is stupid, but common. I used to say it, and cringe now to recall it.)
You want to be in a third mode – the Empowering mode.
When you are in Empowering mode, you treat reports of problems with gentle, open-minded skepticism. You will want to say things like:
“Tell me more about the problem.”
Example: a manager tells you “the staff doesn’t like the coffee.”
Second, Move from Complaint to Problem Statement
Stay in Empowering mode. Shift the other person from merely complaining, to a more constructive mindset.
It is not enough to tell the employee to “bring me solutions.”
Ask questions like:
“If this were fixed, what would we see?”
Example: “How can we get coffee that most people mostly like, while staying within budget, and without spending a lot of time on it?”
Remember to put a fence around this problem-solving effort. You don’t want your subordinate spending 100 hours solving a $10 problem. So remember to ask this as well:
“How much time and money do you think we should spend on solving this problem?”
Get agreement on an amount, and add that as a budget of time and money for this mini project.
Third, Start to Generate Solutions.
In this phase, for a larger issue, you can use it as an opportunity to help your subordinate build their own independent network of contacts in your organization.
In the prior step you had them list out the people they need to involve in the conversation building toward the solution. Now you edit it.
Then have your subordinate contact them.
Warning: set boundaries. Sometimes subordinates who are quality-conscious will devote 20 times more work effort into a problem than is justified. Don’t let that sneak up on you. (You don’t want a simple get-better-coffee issue to turn into a multi-departmental standing committee.)
Ask “How much clock time and how many dollars is it worth to us to resolve this?” Listen closely to their answer, then give them your own opinion. This way you help them start to think in more strategic terms.
Now your subordinate can contact the relevant people and work with them — within limits — to generate some candidate solutions.
Example: “The coffee issue will be addressed by the people who drink coffee, who sign up to participate. I’ll leave a sign-up sheet on a clipboard at the coffee machine. We’ll work on it no more than 20 minutes at a time, once a week.”
Think a tiny problem like this doesn’t deserve a project charter? Maybe — but how will your people get good at big projects if they don’t practice on small ones?
Fourth, Agree on Criteria.
Ask your subordinate to answer:
What makes a good solution good?
Fifth, Rank the Solutions.
In this phase, rate and rank the solutions using the criteria. This should be as easy as it sounds.
By starting well, you’ll find you’ve both saved yourself time and made your subordinate more effective at working with you on problems.
Tom Cox blogs on leadership for Oregon Business.
|The Love Boat|
|The Food Pod Grows Up|
|Tinker, Tailor, Portland Maker|
|The High Road|
|The Shift to Community Health Care|
|The Harder They Fall|
|Another chapter to the Bezos/Musk space race story|
|Thanksgiving travel: Fuel costs low, terrorism anxiety high|
|Costco chicken salad linked to E. coli case in Washington|
|Nestle comes clean about benefitting from slave labor|
|Enormous drugmaker emerges from Pfizer, Allergan deal|
|Startups joining lobbying game|
|Merchants complain as Square goes public|
Economic diversity has proven a smart strategy for the Port of Hood River. How can other Oregon communities replicate the model?
Phone, Internet needs of small community school districts earn attention of top-five telecom provider.
Farmland LP grows its vision for organic farming in Oregon.
The Salem Convention Center has capped its tenth anniversary year by earning the prestigious “Best of the Best 2015” award from NW Meetings & Events magazine. Selected as the Best Convention/Conference Venue in Oregon by meeting and event planners from Alaska, British Columbia, Idaho, Oregon and Washington, the Salem Convention Center ranked above the Oregon Convention Center and the Portland Art Museum.
The Oregon Cooperative Hall of Fame honors individuals for their outstanding contributions to the successful building and operation of Oregon agricultural cooperatives.
Health insurer reports $10.2 million in net income after taxes through the first nine months of 2015.