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Reblogged:Bring Me ... Problem Statements?

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You've doubtless heard the business saying, "Don't bring me problems. Bring me solutions." I certainly have, and I was glad I did when I did: It helped me understand why once I landed in minor hot water after bringing up a problem at a meeting, way back when I was a junior officer in the Navy. I realized that it was obvious then that I hadn't thought of possible causes or solutions.

Good on me for noticing something nobody else had flagged, and for bringing it up. But offering a solution or thoughts that could have helped create one would have been much better. (My delivery was bad in other ways, but that's a story for another day.)

This all sounds good until you read a piece by Sabina Nawaz of Harvard Business Review titled, "The Problem with Saying 'Don't Bring Me Problems, Bring Me Solutions.'"

She raises some issues worthy of consideration, to say the least. One of them is that the idea can cause people to not report problems:

meeting.jpg
Image by Campaign Creators, via Unsplash, license.
Consider the example of one of my clients, James (not his real name), who is the president of a company working on a disruptive service in his industry. He often has an unpleasant reaction when staff raises problems. His team members told me that if they raise an issue or risk, James often hears failure and reacts by losing his temper and raising his voice. The outbursts hurt morale and often cause his team members to lose enthusiasm toward projects and become hesitant to mention problems to James. As a result, James's team only provides him with good news about initiatives they're working on, leaving James blind to any potential issues. They also spend a lot of time in each other's offices, licking their wounds after James' outbursts, instead of being productive.
Oops. I can even see the younger me, on hearing the saying too early, seriously wondering whether I should have reported the problem -- non-critical in my then not-always great judgement -- at all.

This doesn't make the saying useless, but it does underscore that its value is highly contextual, and that managers need to take care that their intent is well-understood. Perhaps the saying is better kept in mind than spoken aloud.

In any event, Nawaz gives three broad suggestions for making the reporting of problems a smoother and more productive process for managers and those who report to them. The last two, presenting the matter in the form of a problem statement, and finding the right person to solve it, sound like they would be useful for everyone. The first, "make it safe," is also good to keep in mind, but is probably more important for some than for others.

-- CAV

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