01 Nov

Coaching and problem solving

“The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.” – Theodore Rubin

Many managers complain about the fact they have to endlessly solve problems for their team members. Unfortunately they are often doing themselves or their team members a disservice by continuing to do so.

Often employees seek guidance or reassurance from their managers when making decisions or solving issues. Where it may become a problem in itself is when the individual expects the manager to provide all answers, or when the manager prefers to control all issues. 

Whether it is the employee or manager relying on the problem solving hierarchy, it can create a stressful backlog of issues, stifle employee growth and empowerment and even waste time. In the worst instances, it may impact customer service or profit margins.

An effective way to improve employee problem solving is through coaching. Rather than giving them the solution, a manager encourages individuals to understand the issue and come up with possible solutions. Over time, the employee will develop their skills and confidence and the manager will reclaim time and trust in delegation.

So how to break the manager-driven problem solving?

  • Start with the next problem that ‘walks’ through your door!  Ask the employee about the issue and what options they think there are to solve it.
  • Discuss with individuals or the team that you would like to build their involvement in issues and would like to see them come to you with possible solutions, not just the problem.
  • Provide problem solving training to outline the importance of these skills in developing a high performing team.

In order for your team members to evolve their problem solving, it will be useful to have consistent steps in coaching conversations. Below is an example simple format, although many companies have their own problem solving model.

  • Define the problem and possible causes – to ensure that the individual has a good understanding of the issue in the first place, ask them to briefly explain the problem and its impact as they see it. Then encourage them to outline the contributing factors or direct causes. This step will help you determine the level to which you need to be involved and most importantly will ensure the employee understands the issue before jumping straight to a solution.
  • Brainstorm options to solving the problem – ask their opinion as to what might resolve the issue, encouraging all options without too many initial restrictions. Some people will hesitate, but persevere and offer prompts if you think it will help e.g. “If budget was no obstacle, what would you do?”; “If you were the customer, what would you want to see happen?”
  • Prioritise the options – seek the employee’s thoughts on which option would best solve the issue, with reality checks as required. e.g. “Bearing in mind that we have 24 hours to solve this, which do you think is the best option?”; “If we can’t get additional budget, what option looks the most favourable?”
  • Develop an action plan – ask what the next steps should be for the prioritised option; including any analysis, further discussion or approval that may be required. Be sure to add any expectations or suggestions you may have and reinforce that you are available to discuss further if needed.

Over time, your employees will need less prompting and will take more initiative, coming to you with issues, solutions and action plans, or even solving problems and telling you what the outcome was!

Then you will find more time can be spent solving your own business issues, planning strategies, developing employees and servicing customers.

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