When I work with supervisors, it is common for me to hear the following complaint from them: “My employees act like I’m the only person who can solve a problem! Why don’t they THINK!”
If you’ve ever attended one of my workshops, you will know that my belief is that employees don’t think because supervisors don’t ask them to think! The supervisor positions him/herself as the chief problem solver, and employees soon learn that all problems can be dumped at the feet of the boss.
If we want effective problem solvers on our team (and who doesn’t?), we have to interact with people differently. Read on for one example that might break this dependency problem…
A Communication Strategy to Engage Employees’ Ideas
Employee: “We have a problem with xyz. Things are messed up because abc…”
Supervisor: “OK. You’ve identified _____ as the problem. Am I understanding?”
Supervisor: “Given what you’ve experienced, what ideas do you suggest for how we can get this straightened out? What are your thoughts?”
Employee: “I don’t know. That’s your job!”
Supervisor: “You’re right that I care about this problem, and you’re right that I need to be involved in solving this problem. I also know we need all the best thinking, and I want to get your ideas since you’re closest to the situation.”
Employee gives suggestions…
Supervisor: “Good. Let’s go with your idea. We can give that a try. What do you need from me right now?”
Later the supervisor follows up: “How’d it go?” (Listens for the answer. Compliments any achievement, etc.) Then says, “You know, you seemed surprised when I asked you for your ideas. I understand that. I recognize that for a long time I assumed I was supposed to be the only problem solver. I’m sorry about that. I’m working to change that habit.”
Note: Supervisors will need to be patient if ideas don’t come quickly. Supervisors should feel free to offer ideas, prompt thinking and combine efforts. Some people are not natural problem solvers. They may need some coaching. We’ll talk more about this dynamic in future posts.