Don’t Give Me a Problem Unless You Have a Solution!

Ever heard that comment?  I certainly have, and I have even heard it out of my own mouth a few times too!

But what happens when this is the message that a manager consistently sends – if this becomes a norm in the organisation?  At a recent Systems Thinking course, the presenter commented that this often ends up in the situation, that if you have a problem but can’t find a solution, then you had better hide the problem!  The unintended consequences can be disastrous with staff too wary of raising difficult issues.

The key message here is that the systems that we create work exactly the way they were designed to work – but these systems designs could be either of our action, and/or of our inaction.  If we don’t like how the system behaves, we have to change its structure (which includes hierarchy, policies, reward systems, procedures and rules). 

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5 Responses to Don’t Give Me a Problem Unless You Have a Solution!

  1. yigalc says:

    In Israel, there is a famous saying within the management scene: When you come for asolution, think first: maybe you are part of the problem…

    Both statements are cynical and counter productive…

    Making decisions, and sometimes, solving problems, are within the role of managers. Expressing these cynics are not contributing to open mind thinking.

  2. Andrew Mitchell says:

    “Don’t give me a problem unless you have a solution” is an extreme position, and as such could well lead to the underireable behaviour you describe.

    The way I first came across this statement, a long time ago, was much more moderate, productive and useful. My supervisors words were something like “when you bring me a problem, bring along some options too”. The intent was simply asking for me to be mature enough to think through problems myself rather than just dumping them on my “superior”. Having thought about things beforehand, our discussions were more likely to result in useful action.

  3. Mitchell is right in my humble opinion. You indirectly mandate to ensure the right intent behind the problem posed, which may be backed by reasons of sorts:
    (i) To avoid responsibility, one may throw the buck into other hands.
    (ii) Have a genuine improvement idea, which is perhaps premature.
    (iii) Identify a genuine common problem, which needs to be sorted out within known/ knowable knowledge.
    Possible each of these can be addressed with different styles?

    First case: It is better to address the problem raiser sternly.
    Second: Appreciate for nucleating the thought, and make the concerned people aware to enable some one to initiate the thought process in their own time.
    Third: If the problem was of neither kind as above, why not to begin right now, let’s see how expediently can we find the possible solution? Do we have options?

    Some years before, I happened to be assessing a not-very-sophisticated sample making unit in a laboratory under clause 7.6 of ISO 9001:2000. The organisation had not addressed the calibration criteia for the new equipment, while the manufacturer had offered no option to help them addtress this problem. Was it wanting to give a non conformance over the lack of fulfilment ofthe requirement?

    Can you give them a problem, if you (think you) did not have a workable solution?

    While I do think this problem is in (iii) above, what would one do if the problem pertained to category (ii).

    Priyavrat Thareja

  4. vikasdeep singh mann says:

    great ………..

  5. I just wrote practically the same thing in my blog just not with the clarity of your post. I’ve heard of employees reviews being lowered because highlighted issues (problems) and not suggesting a solution. This is just a dysfunctional and lazy management practice. Great post and still relevant.

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