As a business owner or manager, when someone comes to you with a problem, what’s your first reaction? Sit down and tease it out with them? Determine what they are looking for from you? Or, like most managers, do you jump in and start solving the problem for them? If so, how is this working out for you? Do you find you’re the one solving all the problems, making all the decisions? Do you get around to your own work? Do you get tired of this?
If you’re nodding your head, saying “yes, that’s what happens to me“, you’re definitely not alone but you might be part of the problem. This is a very common trap that Managers fall into. The thought-process goes something along the line of “I’m supposed to have all the answers, that’s my role. When someone comes to me with a problem, I’m supposed to fix it for them“. Taking a step back, however, is it really the role of manager to solve everyone else’s problems? Or, is the role more about developing people to be able to solve their own problems, in a way consistent with the company and/or Business owner’s expectations?
For many people, if they can “run something passed” and come away with either the correct answer or the problem taken off their desk, they’ll avail of the option. This is especially true if there’s only an upside (100% certainty of the decision or the problem is removed) with no consequences (e.g., no “chat”, no knock-on performance issues, no “go and sort it yourself” etc).
If this is sounding familiar, what can you do to break the cycle?
Step 1: Acknowledge the Pattern
Recognise this is a behavioural pattern that can be changed. Identify which people you have fallen into this cycle with and isolate your responses to these people. Determine alternative, appropriate responses that you can use the next time you find yourself in this situation. For example, instead of jumping in with a possible solution, ask them what they are looking for by coming to you? Is it input, knowledge, thoughts or do they want you to solve the problem? Another option might be to throw it back to them and ask them what their thoughts on the issue are.
Step 2: Determine Why You
Find out the underlying reasons they are coming to you the whole time. Is it that they aren’t confident in their level of knowledge and/or skills? Is it that if they make a mistake, it’s treated as a big deal? Is it that it is faster for them to come to you? Is it that any decisions they make will be questioned anyway so why bother? There are many different reasons why such a pattern of escalation might arise. It’s important for you to honestly consider the reasons behind such a cycle because the impact is that everything slows down – decisions, solutions, implementation, results.
Step 3: Identify a Plan of Action
This really depends on the root-cause of the pattern. If it’s lack of knowledge and/or skills, spending time identifying the areas of uncertainty and developing a training plan (on-the-job or a course) should minimise this. If it’s a time thing, you need to set some boundaries and expectations as to what is and isn’t acceptable. If it’s a confidence issue, developing a plan to build the confidence (on both sides) can be created but more about how to do that in my next blog.
In the meantime, do you regularly find yourself sorting out other people’s problems, while losing your own time and train of thought? If so, what tricks do you use to side-step it?