I have discovered something that is not new—and yet it still occurs in companies all over. I have discovered that people still tend to be part of the problem, and forget this thing called “a solution.” A fantastic example of this was recently told to me when a manager I know dealt with a problem that she pointed out—and got cut down for.
The problem was something as simple as a failure to communicate to all necessary parties that a key person along the chain of getting things done, was going on vacation. As a result, projects were getting held up due to the failure to pass along key information to needed individuals. The problem happened a couple times before this manager learned about the vacation from an outside supplier who knew before she or her department did. They had been sending this person important documents, and they were stopping at his desk.
When she voiced concern over the way these types of absences were being handled and the need for better communication to avoid project hold-up, she was immediately shot down with angry emails from “the accused.” The immediate reactions of several people, not just the vacationer, in the other department were such things as, “It’s not my fault!” “I don’t see why you are criticizing me,” and “I didn’t know.”
Now there are more problems. Not only are projects getting held up, but people are feeling accused, people are focusing on deflecting the blame, and people are focusing on the problem rather than the solution.
Why does this persist?
Every company naturally wants to find solutions to their problems, because answers mean fewer hold ups, but people often immediately take the presentation of a problem as something to step away from. My gut instinct is to think that people get worried about their jobs, and the initial reaction when someone points out a problem is to get defensive and deflect the pointing fingers away from themselves. “It’s not my fault!” The reason is because the word “problem” naturally carries a negative connotation with it, which makes people want to back away. No one wants a “bad thing” associated with them, especially if the job environment is one which emphasizes blame.
In some cases, it may even be a manager who avoids a problem for reasons such as knowing how difficult or time consumig a task it may become to get it fixed. People are busy and might ignore a problem because they just don’t have time to deal with it, or they just don’t want to do it. I myself have encountered this attitude when I found an issue with outdated MSDS binders. I was even warned, “Mention that and you’ll get an arduous task on your hands,”–but problems exist because something is wrong and needs to be fixed. Sometimes, getting a problem fixed a matter of integrity.
What should be the focus?
The manager receiving the angry reactions to her identifying the problem remained cool enough to reiterate that no criticism was intended, but that the goal was to find a solution. This is what needs to be explained; it does not matter where the problem began—what matters is that it gets resolved. Take the negative and make it a positive.
The bold individual, or the person bringing bold behavior to work, focuses on the solution. Pointing out a problem, and then sticking to finding a solution to it, can sometimes require courage and confidence if others mistake the action as accusation. Somtimes it takes integrity and honesty to get a real issue fixed, despite the challenge it may present. No one likes a problem. Everyone likes to complain about them, but few are willing put themselves out there to get them fixed. These people are only a part of the problem themselves. It takes the bold person to keep their eye on the solution.
What helps employees see the solutions and not the problems?
I would argue that a supportive work environment is needed, but even if you have a boss that “likes to find you’ve made a mistake,” taking the proactive attitude to find solutions will reflect well on you. Have the courage to speak up about a problem. This is not complaining. You should already have solutions to offer, and if you don’t, be prepared to press the point of gathering input to find an answer. Having the right perspective and attitude will help you keep your eye on what’s really important–not who did it, or who is to blame, but how to get it resolved. The point is to make an improvement.
This is not a new lesson, I am simply reminding everyone to be part of the solution. So ask yourself this: are you part of the problem or the solution? Did you complain about anything at work today? Maybe you need stop complaining and start seeing if this is something that could be fixed.
Your goal: Be bold—be part of the solution.
Share your thoughts—what problems have you helped solve at work?
Future posts: Bold Research! What helps employees bring bold behavior to the workplace? And why might an employer want to encourage that?– Check back soon for my results!