Dumb Management Speak – Don’t Bring Me Problems

Dumb Management Speak – Don’t Bring Me Problems
May 22, 2012 Derek Fournier

“Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions!” The saying so commonplace that it is lampooned regularly when making fun of crap managers that it has itself become almost comedic. While I can understand the intent behind this saying, the intent has been lost over years of bad translation (funny how that can happen). Sadly, the humor is lost when bad managers misuse this aphorism and not only hurt the team but also quell really genuine feedback.

In any environment, problems will arise. Whether the problems start as interpersonal or procedural, dealing with the issues is quite often something a manger will be required to do. I would argue that most problems are brought to the attention of a manager by members of the team because the people who will identify a large number of issues first are the ones closest to the issue. (Yea yea, I know. Distance creates perspective, and there are great examples for that, but for this article I am speaking about more procedural, tactical and/or tangible issues so relax). How many times have you raised an issue and been met with, “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.”

With all due respect, that is garbage.

The first step to solving a problem is identifying it. In this case, if the problem was brought to a manager then the person bringing it has started the ball rolling. Instead of taking your chance to flex your management muscles and smack down a team member, how about redirecting and engaging the conversation? Assess the situation raised. Vet it out. Ask follow up questions. Help mentor your teammate to evaluate problems, assess the severity and actually start to solve it. Demonstrate that they are empowered to do that very thing or at least guide them in how to build possible solutions that have a high likelihood of being enacted.

I worked for a Lead Program Manager once who would talk about the importance of “White Flags.” A White Flag is a situation when you know something is wrong and despite your best efforts you do not have a solution. The absence of a solution does not render a problem solved! It means that it is either:

  1. Discovered by someone who needs a great deal of guidance on how to solve problems  (Person Problem)
  2. Discovered by someone who does not feel empowered to take action (Process Problem)
  3. A really tough problem that demands escalation (Serious Problem)

Interestingly enough, all three of these require you as a manager (and hopefully a leader) to take some action!

So take action beyond dropping a trite phrase on someone trying to help.

NOTE: If the same person continues to bring issues and not get any better at triaging them appropriately or trying to enact change, then you have also leveraged this to help assess your team. 

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