How to Bring Up Problems in a Productive Way

When problems are communicated to leaders properly, it creates an environment in which people feel safe to bring up bad news early to better avert a crisis.

It’s time to retire the saying, “Don’t bring me problems; bring me solutions.”

Even though advocates of the approach believe it reduces whining and boosts careers, it can cause employees to shut down in fear, breed a culture of intimidation and prevent some problems from surfacing until they’re full-blown crises.

Here’s how you can encourage your team to bring up problems in a more productive way:

Make it safe: Modify your behavior so that people aren’t afraid to bring you bad news. In his book Business at the Speed of Thought, Bill Gates says one of his most important jobs as CEO was to listen for bad news so that he could act on it. When I worked at Microsoft, our reviews with him often included detailed discussions about problems.

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Require problem statements instead of complaints: Complaints are often identifiable by their uncompromising tone and reliance on words such as “always” and “never.” Problem statements, on the other hand, provide objective facts, examine underlying factors and causes, and reveal everyone’s role in creating the problem. When the issue is presented in the form of a problem statement, it’s much easier to spot patterns behind specific issues.

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Find the right person to solve the issue: When an employee presents you with a problem, consider its scope and that person’s ability to solve it. Based on the situation, you can coach an individual to stretch their abilities and tackle the challenge; thank them for raising the issue and assign it to the appropriate people to resolve; or bring together several groups to address it.

Copyright 2017 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

Topics: Management

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