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Never Bring Your Boss Problems without Solutions

Updated on December 5, 2015

In the day to day activity of the workplace, it’s easy to get lost in the task at hand. I’m sure all of us at one time or another has lost sight of the big picture for their view of the problem is more important now. Many times I’ve seen my people scramble around trying to accomplish the tasks I set for them, and because their focus in very singular, they don’t understand why other issues or people have priority for their manager’s time.

A common scenario that I run across is where one of my people has a task due that is in support of a larger project that I’m responsible for. I’ll assign them to compile historical sales figures for the last 5 years by month, so I can do an analysis of how our organization is doing with sales, personnel, expenses, marketing, etc. While the sales figures are important, they are only a piece of the puzzle that I need in order to present a background to my boss for a decision.

In this example of the task I assigned, the person assigned will come to me a day or two before it’s due to me, and say that the numbers aren’t available... There is usually a decent reason for this; the server crashed, the person who keeps these figures is on vacation, their dog ate the numbers... the list goes on. When this happens I normally pause and ask what we should do about it? The person gives me a puzzled stare and says that’s why they were bringing it to my attention; because they didn’t know what to do.

It may seem from this example, that the person in question has a valid point, that they are going to their supervisor when they have a problem that they cannot solve. I believe that many people subscribe to this and allow substandard performance to be acceptable, and therefore solve most of the problems themselves. In the above scenario, the employee should try every means possible to get the sales figures, not just what they are used to doing. Most often, I’ve found when someone says they cannot deliver, it’s because the way they want to deliver is not available to them. But let’s say that these numbers are absolutely not available through any means possible. What the employee should do is go to their supervisor and say that the numbers are not available for the following reasons, (X, Y, and Z), and they’ve tried (A, B, and C) to get them to no avail; and since they are not available, their recommendations for proceeding without the numbers are as follows (1,2, and 3).

This is bringing a solution and not a problem to your boss. It’s a simple technique, but works wonders in how you are perceived at your job, how effective you really are, and leads to being seen as a problem solver. I know that many of my largest frustrations would come from those people who constantly complain on how they can’t do something, without any mention on how they would solve that problem if they were in my position. This is the crux of it—if you had to make the decision without all of the information needed, how would you do it?

This situation also causes additional issues. If the supervisor if comfortable “fixing” the problems that the employee couldn’t fix, the employee is never trained to think constructively through issues and allowed to be lazy because “the boss has it”. Eventually, this situation leads to the boss reporting to their subordinate on the status of projects, and that can never be allowed to happen.

The person with solutions is always the one sought after for advice, and it’s no more difficult than getting out of your comfort zone and looking at the issue from another perspective.

In order to really be a consummate professional, look ahead on what the desired outcome of the project is, and what type of information you would need if you were in charge of the project. I learned this lesson many years ago, and since then have become the problem solver, which led for many of my supervisors to consider me the “go-to” guy for problems they can’t solve. In order to be that desired person, you need to offer solutions and not more problems.

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