It has been my experience that problem solvers hold the most value within a company. For that reason, I try to surround myself with team members that look for solutions. Since my first job, I have always felt that my duty was to make my boss’s job easier. I figured that it was my job to find ways to solve my superior’s problems. This same attitude flows over into the customer service side of business as well. No one wants to solve your problems, they want someone with solutions.
Yesterday, I was speaking with a colleague, and he was telling me that he is sick of people bringing him problems. He doesn’t need people to bring him problems; he can find them all by himself. In fact, problems will ultimately present themselves in almost every occasion. So why am I paying people to bring the problems to me? This was a very insightful view and quite accurate.
Over the years I have encountered many of these types of team members. Most of them fall into one, or more, of the following categories: gunslingers, time travelers, and tenants.
The Gunslingers will shoot holes into the best laid plans. They are only concerned in casting blame and showing where all the problems are in any given situation. You can spend hours trying to help them solve problems, but they will just continue to tell you why those ideas won’t work. Try to stay away from these types of people. They are rarely trainable, and I have only seen a few that could be converted from their pessimistic outlooks.
The time travelers are the employees that either want to know the future or can only focus on the past. A time traveler will always stay focused on what happened yesterday or what will happen tomorrow. The best way to deal with these team members is to constantly reinforce the fact that we can’t change the past, and we don’t know the future. I have found that if you can get them to start expecting the best but planning for the worst, you can break them of this bad habit. My experience has been that you can learn from history but you need to focus from this point moving forward. Finally you want to have contingency plans in case something does go wrong. However, you cannot afford to stop production due to fear of the unknown.
Our last category are the tenants. I call them tenants because I think of the relationship between a tenant and a landlord. All the tenants do is bring the landlord their problems to fix. While that might be the job of a landlord it is not the job of a manager. Over the years I have used the following technique to stop the tenants in their tracks. When I have someone who continuously brings me problems, I simply ask them the question, what would you do if this was your company? Based on their answer you will know if they are the right person for the job or not. If not, maybe some mentoring is needed? I will get into mentoring next. However, if they can handle it without having to come to you, then why are they coming to you? The simple answer is that they are afraid to make the wrong decision. I have a simple fix for this as well. When I get someone who constantly comes to me with problems or questions, and I know they are capable of handling it without my involvement, I tell them the following; “From this point forward I don’t want you to ask me anymore questions that I can’t answer with a simple yes or no.” For example, don’t come to me with a question about what do I think you should do about….. Instead come in with a statement. I was going to do this about ……is that ok? This will show me that the manager has at least taken the time to think through the problem and come up with solutions. Therefore, bring me one or multiple solutions to choose from. This will eliminate the fear factor and cut down on the interruptions. Over time the manager will also start to build confidence, and realize that they don’t have to involve you on every decision.
My last comment is about mentoring. This is a lost art. Many people today think that they can just hire the perfect employee, and that doesn’t work. While I have spoken about many specific problematic personalities, you have to be honest with yourself. This whole article only applies to skilled and seasoned team members. If you continually have people coming to you with questions, is this a personnel problem or a training problem? If you look back on your own career I am sure you will remember many people who took the time to teach you the skills you have acquired. Make sure that you make time to mentor and train others. I personally have time built into my weekly schedule for mentoring. You cannot just hire the perfect employee. There are too many differences from one company to another. However, if you spend the time to train them properly you will build a relationship with a valued team member that will solve your problems and in the end give you more time to train others.