Impulse 19. Solutions From the Employee, Not From the Boss!

Imagine your employee comes storming into the office…he is extremely agitated, has just talked with a customer… “Boss! All hell is breaking loose! The client just called, he desperately needs the replacement. I’ve already called the store – they don’t have it. Mrs. Prisca from Services has also just called in sick. What shall we do?”

Of course, most leaders help their employees! They ask one or two questions to get an idea of the situation, and then these ambitious, goal-oriented and extremely competent leaders immediately find a solution and save the day.

Helping harms

What does the employee learn from all this? When I have a problem who will help me? … My boss! I can always go to her, that’s where I will find help. They don’t need to engage more of their brain. But, if the boss decides everything by herself and solves all the problems, then the team is only as clever as the boss.

Of course, dear reader, you know better! Who should provide the solution in an ideal world? The employees of course! I was recently in a seminar with various leaders and we were discussing just this point. All were in agreement that the employees should develop the solutions and that the boss should not provide these herself. Then we had our first exercise on the morning of the first day of the seminar. What did 4 out of 5 leaders do? Offer the solution themselves! We had just talked about this!

This habit hinders growth

Why is this?

These are deep-seated habits as many leaders tend to offer solutions. If you want to know more about disciplined implementing and new habits, check out the blog post Impulse xxxx Tobi bitte einsetzen “Disciplined Implementation and New Habits”. You’ll find a lot of concrete and useful tips.

What can you do differently?

Get your employees used to the fact that you principally don’t provide solutions. The employees are always first in line to offer new solutions. Tell them this in a meeting: Everyone can come with questions, but these must be accompanied by two alternative solutions. I recommend the YTFDE approach. Yes, there are open questions, closed questions and YTFDE questions. It’s easy to remember. What does it stand for? “You Think First, Dear Employee”. Formulate such a question, memorize it, and use it every time an employee comes with a question. I use the following: “Well, what do you suggest?” Each time the same question and in the same tone. The employees will eventually learn that if they go to the boss to ask something, they will always receive exactly the same answer which is in fact a question. And they will come to learn how to think up their own proposals.

Works, but marginally

A director of a small software firm near Munich once told me about his method, with which he had managed to very quickly convince his employees to come to him with questions that were accompanied by potential solutions. When an employee comes to this director with a question to which they have no answer, then he asks them to write their question on a piece of paper. The employee is puzzled, but complies. Then the director crumples up the paper and tosses it away saying, “And when you have two alternative solutions then come back to me to discuss those.” It doesn’t take long for this trick to become common knowledge and no one else comes to ask the director without bringing two solutions.

From my point of view, this method is not particularly respectful, but it is effective.

Asking is better than saying

My recommendation: Feel free to be clear in your communication, but remember to be appreciative. The key to success is to offer no solutions and also explain why you are not doing so. This way you will achieve your goal with mutual respect. Still, some employees don’t find it easy to find solutions by themselves. You can help them with these five coaching questions:

  1. What is the goal?
  2. What is the status quo?
  3. What possibilities are there?
  4. What are the pros and cons of these possibilities?
  5. What would you the employee decide based on these pros and cons?

That’s how you do it.

Sometimes the employees are a little lethargic about it. Then you can make use of the following additional talking points:

  1. Remind the employee of their competencies or of a similar situation in the past in which they proved themselves. Please always use concrete examples. And then you ask the employee what he did back then to solve the problem in order to encourage him to find their own way to the solution. If it is not exactly applicable, ask anyway what he did in the previous situation and what they could take from that to find the solution in this one.
  2. Alternatively, ask who in the team is well versed in such a situation from the point of the view of the employee. Encourage them to ask this colleague. This way you also promote exchanges within the team and relieve yourself of this task.
  3. Express praise and thanks in the right measure – not too much and not too little – for each solution offered by the employees. In this way you will strengthen their engagement for future solutions.
  4. If you trust your employee to find a solution, then ask them to think about one by tomorrow. Make an appointment at a specific time tomorrow morning for them to present their solution. For this method you will need two meetings with your employee instead of just one, but you are likely to eliminate the need for additional meetings in the future, because your team members will learn to think themselves and in future will be more likely to act themselves rather than ask you.

The foundation: Understanding human behavior

The basis for this challenging of employees are three basic concepts:

  1. Employees want to be part of the success. They want to be proud of their contribution. Every four year old regularly runs to their parents and says, “Look at me mum! Look at me dad!” Some forget during the course of their lives that good performance offers good rewards. A re-education is then necessary.
  2. Demand something that is qualitatively more demanding of your employee than they can currently do. This is also called growth.
  3. Employees love to be thrown in at the deep end – in hindsight. Everyone wants to grow. Everyone finds joy in doing something better today than they did yesterday.

The key to fundamentally stronger thinking

Bring your employees together in responsibility. Remove yourself as the company’s eye of the needle. Repeat the question again and again in meetings and in one-to-one talks: “What would you decide if this was your company?” The more frequently the employees hear this question, the more often they will ask it of themselves, think about solutions themselves, and act themselves – all without asking you.

This new behavior is in many cases a form of relearning for the employees. This is particularly the case when they previously had bosses who never let them make their own decisions, or bosses who started screaming at the slightest mistake and punished errors with far too much vehemence.

So, hunt like a lion. For you probably know that the lion himself does not hunt. He has delegated the hunting of the antelopes to the lionesses. They are lighter than the lion and thus also faster and can bring down their prey with far more ease than he could. He simply has other tasks.

Two questions for your long-term success

If you want to become systematically better at these behaviors, then complete the following exercises a few times a day after a discussion with an employee. Ask yourself:

  1. For how much of the time was I talking?
  2. From whom did the solution come?

If you were speaking for 50% of the time and the solution came from your employee, then you have done a lot right. Otherwise, there is room for improvement.

I wish you the best of success in leading like a lion and delegating responsibilities to your employees!

Your Markus Jotzo


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *