Three Actions to Focus on Good Problems and Not Wasteful Problems

September 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

Life is a never ending series of problems. Leaders cannot
avoid problems nor should they want to.
Problems bring about change.  The
key is for us to spend most, if not all, of our time on solving good problems
while minimizing time spent on wasteful problems.  An example of a good problem is, “we are
growing so fast our systems can’t keep up.”
This type of problem aligns your high performance people to improve
processes to better manage and deliver products and services to new
customers.  This is a good (positive)
problem to have.   Good problems bring
about positive change.

A wasteful problem example is, “Employees are complaining
about the boss and many are threatening to quit.”  This is a wasteful problem and most people
avoid confronting it in hopes it will solve itself.  They wait until the very last minute to address
it and this causes the problem to intensify.
Wasteful problems bring about wasted time and emotional upset.

What are the root-causes of wasteful problems?  That is a challenging question.  I can safely express my opinion and say that most
wasteful problems exist because of a lack of trust.  The higher the level of trust in an organization
the more likely employees will identify and address problems before they become
wasteful. Leaders can take three actions to minimize wasteful problems.

Action #1: Avoid hiring
heroes and heroines

First, avoid hiring heroes and heroines.  High performance talent can have big
egos.  Big egos can get in the way of
high performance.  Big egos require big
feeding.  I have seen talent who create
wasteful problems just to be able to jump in and save the day and to be the
hero.  Design your hiring and screening
process to uncover the individuals’ priorities and avoid the heroes.

The best way to do this involves first identifying the desired
organizational values behaviors.  You can
then design your interviewing process and questions to solicit the candidates’
priority values.  If you realize they often
need to be the center of attention and/or they need to be the hero or heroine,
run for the hills.  They will create
wasteful problems so they can look good when they solve them.

Action #2: Once you
hire them trust them

Second, once you hire them, trust them right away!   Tell them you have high expectations and
that you don’t need to micro-manage because they are highly talented and
trustworthy.  Take every opportunity to
trust them and be sure to communicate when you appreciate their actions.  Also, get permission from them to give
feedback when needed.  Feedback is data
not opinion.  Tell them there is no need
to evaluate their performance unless they want your opinions.   There is a need to manage their agreements.  Let them know you will give them feedback when
they fail to keep expected agreements or expectations.   Don’t forget to give them permission to do
the same for you.

Action #3: Give them
permission to experiment

Finally, give them permission to experiment.  Let them know you trust their judgment to
solve problems.  Let them know you are available
to brainstorm if they want help to create new solutions to the problems.  Remind them they are talented and let them
know as long as they are respectful, keep their agreements, and are willing to
admit their mistakes, let them go.  Let
them ask for forgiveness instead of asking for permission.  Forgiveness takes much less time.  If they are willing to experiment and they
make a mistake, but admit it, forgive them.
The big wasteful problems will most likely be avoided.  The good problems will be solved.  Wasteful problems get worse when people make
mistakes and never realize they made them.

If you are going to take the time to hire great talent you
might as well trust them to be talented.
This is part of a strategy for focusing time on the good problems and
avoiding time on the wasteful ones.

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