“Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.”
This is one of those standby expressions that small business owners frequently say to their employees. It recently came up in one of my PRO peer groups. The question was: is it a smart thing, or is it a dumb thing?
At first glance, the phrase implies that the employer has mastered the art of delegation and empowered his or her employees to take independent action. So, it’s a smart thing, right?
Actually, the conclusion we came to is: no, not when you really think about it.
- Do you really not want to know what’s going on in your business, especially problems?
- Do you really want to encourage your employees not to communicate with you? To not use you as a resource?
The Art of Delegation
Delegating to employees is a healthy strategy, yes. But completely removing yourself from your business and your staff is not going to help either one grow.
But delegating to the correct degree is a tricky skill for many small business owners to develop, because it goes against their entrepreneurial roots.
Many young entrepreneurs are control freaks in the early days of their business, and it serves them well. They want to manage every aspect of their operation and jump on every little problem. It’s a good thing when you’re getting started.
But then, as the business grows beyond their capabilities, they recognize the need to hire a staff and delegate. But some can’t let anything go and become overbearing workaholics; while others let everything go and get out of touch with their own business.
The trick is to find the right balance. The right approach is to encourage employees to bring you their problems, whether they have solutions or not. Problem solving should be encouraged, but good communication should be encouraged more. That’s how you create a foundation of trust.
Seizing Teachable Moments
Every time an employee brings a problem to your attention, it’s an opportunity for a mini training session.
No, you don’t want your staff bringing you every trivial little issue. But it’s up to you to define what’s important and communicate those limits to your employee.
For example, one of my peer group members had a new service rep. The rep was having trouble resolving customer complaints, and ended up bringing everything to the boss. It was time-consuming.
His solution was to define the limits of her decision-making authority. If it was less than a $100 problem, she could make the call. If it was more than a $100 problem, they’d resolve it together.
At the end of every week, he had her provide a spreadsheet of the problems and her resolutions, so he could confirm she was on the right track. As she grew more knowledgeable and confident, he increased her decision-making dollar max.
In other words, the problems became a springboard for employee training and development. For more ways to turn business “lemons” into lemonade, check out my books, The Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses.
Ray Silverstein is president of PRO, President’s Resource Organization, a network of entrepreneurial peer advisory groups in Phoenix and Chicago. He is author of “The Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses,” and “The Small Business Survival Guide.” You can reach Ray at 312-593-5133 or firstname.lastname@example.org.