Problem solving gets far more respect than it deserves. It keeps us busy; it entertains and distracts us. And often all it does is cause more problems.
A few weeks ago I was working with a client who was amazed that I did not rush to solve every problem I saw. Most things in life are not going the way people “want” them to; which is generally what people mistakenly call a problem. It is worth doing the work to accomplish what is really called for but the hypnosis of “first we need to solve this problem” is an undermining distraction.
Here’s what I notice. I’ve rarely seen a problem that…
…was clearly described. When asked, “What’s the problem?” most people (well over 95% in thousands of interviews) describe their favorite solution to an unidentified problem. “The problem around here is a lack of management training.” Management training is not a problem; it’s their favorite solution to something. Yet people spend millions of dollars and even more hours chasing their favorite solutions in ever more costly circles.
…couldn’t be resolved more effectively if someone wrestled with it until they had some insight that would serve them and others in the future. Maybe this “problem” doesn’t need to be “solved”. Maybe “dissolving” it would be more powerful. Get interested in working to eliminate the conditions that give rise to this “problem”.
… wasn’t a symptom of a larger set of problems that arise in different forms, over and over again. Get interested in identifying the fundamental orientation that’s missing that gives rise to the larger set and provide the development that resolves it.
…wasn’t a symptom of something deeper and more powerful that can be addressed. An opportunity that even “root cause” analysis doesn’t contemplate. If you are willing to try something other than quick fix problem solving, consider letting some issues get bad enough people get serious about resolving the area at a fundamental level rather than spending a fortune on band aids while undermining “employee engagement” with every new fix.
The real power is to communicate and act in behalf of accomplishment that fulfills what life is really calling for next. This approach – the Contegrity approach – is grounded in deep integrity and lining up with what life is calling for rather than your individual and disconnected “wants”. Working from this orientation will have you moving forward in powerful and effective ways with less busyness and more focus.
Here are a couple of great comments generated by my earlier post on coaching.
This is a great article that hits on some very real issues. I agree that while not everyone wants to do what it takes to change the game, there are some managers that want to change the game and may even be willing to put their ass on the line for it but don’t see a realistic way of achieving it. For example, I come across managers on a regular basis that have passion for raising the game of their direct reports, but see it only achievable as a trade-off… “I would love to have the time to be able to put my ass on the line, but I have a job to do as well.” They think that it would be easy to double someone’s effectiveness if that was ‘all’ they had to do. In these cases the challenge comes not from a lack of willingness but from a place of misunderstanding where managers do not see their primary responsibilities as ensuring the success of their direct reports. They do not live in a way where it is already their job, with their asses already on the line to have the “work” as the opportunity to engage, inspire, and light-up their direct reports. To live as, “if my staff fail, it is impossible for me to succeed” level of commitment.
This is not surprising as most managers do not and did not have “coaches” that have provided this for them. It is now time to live this understanding (and)… to make this commitment… we have just never been accountable to ourselves and others for doing our real jobs.
Interesting, but I think there are some other angles. What about the other side, the employee has to want and to be willing to commit to improve an equal degree or the manager is pushing an awful big rock uphill?
And what about employees who really are performing well, and the status quo is good for the employee and the company? Perhaps this steady state is the best thing ; the employee may find that suits them, and the company needs that role filled on a perpetual basis. It’s similar to the general business rule that if your company is not growing, it’s dying. I disagree, there are definitely situations where steady-state is the best state.
However, your description of assessments and how they happen is bang on (where I work). Its a hidden system in that the process is shrouded and secretive, and it’s unclear often how evaluations are done. Its unclear if they have any value at all . I think they don’t; I’ve never got anything out of them in the last three years.
In response to a recent post, Malcolm McKinnon writes:
“I disagree with your statement that ‘I don’t know’ is akin to saying ‘I’m dead’, rather I think ‘I don’t care… to advance’ is the sentiment to be damned. In fact, I think ‘I don’t know’ can be a critical element of avoiding groupthink and advancing empowerment and technology.
“Saying ‘I don’t know’ or perhaps ‘I don’t understand’ is a useful tactic for a low legitimate power minority perspective holder trying to expose a group’s weak decision.
“Isn’t ‘empowerment’ emboldened by managers admitting that those doing are best positioned to make change suggestions? Isn’t ‘I don’t know’ an important part of that process?
“In a world of questionably researched / motivated content, written by only self-professed experts, is ‘I don’t know’ an important signal of trust in a message and associated politic infused world?
“While I agree we have an abundance of knowledge sources – and Google seems ‘all-knowing’, I sense the message ‘I don’t know’ is not one to be damned, but rather, in some instances to be encouraged. We should save our criticism for not caring to advance, for accepting ‘status quo dogma’.”
Malcolm, I agree with the sentiment of your comment. “Not knowing” is a far more powerful orientation that “I (or we) already know.” “Already knowing” suppresses thinking, re-thinking, creativity, innovation.
People have a tendency to translate the issue they are currently facing into a problem they already know how to solve – because they already know how to solve that problem. Already know can be deadly.
The issue I was pointing to was the readiness to let not knowing how to be a stop. “Not knowing” is not the issue. Letting that stop you is the issue. Not knowing can be a real source of power – but not if you let it stop you.
If the pioneers (go West young man, go West) said, “I don’t know how to grow potatoes in this ground” – and stopped there – rather than trying things, seeing what would grow, experimenting to find out how, they would have died earlier than they did.
How many people are killing themselves and their organizations with, “I don’t know how”? That’s the part that concerns me.