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The Problem with Saying “Don’t Bring Me Problems, Bring Me Solutions”

By Steve Cook

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Interesting read highlighting a common ‘problem’. It would be easy to think of this as something that only affects large, complex and multi-layered organisations but it is equally manifest everywhere.

It feeds into many other debates around leadership approaches, culture and empowerment and many organisations are addressing these well – but many are not.

The Problem with Saying “Don’t Bring Me Problems, Bring Me Solutions
By Sabina Nawaz

It’s time to retire the saying “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.” Even though advocates of this approach believe it reduces whining, increases empowerment, helps employees manage up, and boosts careers, it’s fraught with challenges.

Not every problem has an easy solution. Tackling the complexity of most significant business issues can take a pool of talented people with diverse points of view. What’s more, according to Wharton professor Adam Grant, solution-only thinking creates “a culture of advocacy instead of one of inquiry,” where each person comes into the situation locked into their way of solving the problem and lobbies hard for that particular solution rather than considering multiple perspectives.

The “bring me a solution” approach can also cause employees to shut down in fear, breed a culture of intimidation, and prevent some problems from surfacing until they’re full-blown crises. 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.

If saying “don’t bring me problems” is so troublesome, why do so many managers continue say it? A key reason is because they want to avoid a culture of complaining. But communicating about the potential pitfalls and roadblocks for an initiative is different from complaining, and it can take a more positive form. When issues are communicated properly, it creates an environment where people feel safe to bring you bad news early, giving you precious lead time to avert a crisis.

Read the full article at Harvard Business Review here

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