In each and every organization, you will find problems. Sometimes big, sometimes small. There’s no getting around it. Like everything else, how an organization responds to problems comes from the top.
This a lesson I learned from my wife, but it really came from her principal. As a teacher, my wife would often find she had trouble dealing with some issue that had come up. The first time she approached her principal with one of these issues, the principal calmly explained her expectations in those cases.
I’m paraphrasing here, but this is what the principal told her. As long as you work, you will encounter problems. Every day, someone comes to my office to tell me about a problem, and they expect me to solve it for them. It’s like they brought in a pile of trash and expect me to clean it up. Those are people I can’t rely on. What I want is someone who does a little bit of thinking, tells me what they’ve tried and some type of solution to consider.
The next time you face a problem you either can’t figure out on your own or need approval to implement a solution, keep that advice in mind. Before you go to your supervisor, make sure you have a solution to offer. Otherwise, you face the prospect that they may do nothing and just let you keep struggling with your problem.
Of course, you have to do your homework. Do your research. Find out what has been tried before. What has or hasn’t worked and, if possible, why. Ask your co-workers what they know about the problem.
From there, you should be able to propose a reasonable solution. However, that’s not the end of it. You still have more work to do. Sit down and do a simple pros and cons list for your solution. Think particularly hard about the cons. You have to be ready to counter every objection you can think of. When you present your solution, you will first point out the pros of it. Then you should add that you’ve thought about some of the possible objections and point out how you would overcome those objections.
You want to make it as easy as possible for your supervisor to say yes. It’s a lot like making a sale, where you have to overcome objections before the customer even thinks of them. If you can get others to support your solution before you even go to your supervisor, that also helps. It shows that you’ve worked to be inclusive and have worked to make it a team effort.
There is one objection that you won’t really be able to counter. I call it the “unforeseen consequences trap.” The bigger the problem/solution or the more others are vested in the status quo or some other solution, the more likely this is to come up. It’s a trap because it asks that you be able to look into the future and look at all the possible things that could happen. Of course, you can’t possibly do that. My response to that question is to just disregard it: If we had to try to figure out the “unforeseen consequences” every time we make a decision, we would be paralyzed. We would never do anything. If the person/people who started this business had to figure out all the unforeseen consequences, they might never have even started. But, as you know, the internet was the result of unforeseen consequences.
The key point is that you have to do your homework and be prepared. It should be obvious, but supervisors appreciate solution people much more than problem people. Bring solutions before you bring problems.
Arnoldo Mata is an organizational strategist and heads Leadership Resource Group, specializing in leadership and management training, grant writing and strategic planning. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.