Q: I have an employee who constantly brings problems to me and expects me to solve them. I want to encourage him to take more responsibility. What can I do to make this happen?
A: You’re right: You don’t want your employees to dump their problems on you. You want them to learn and apply problem-solving techniques so that they can at least attempt to address their own challenges.
However, you also don’t want to create a culture where your staffers are afraid to bring issues to you out of fear that they’ll be penalized or you won’t help. When managers say, “bring me solutions—not problems,” employees may hide serious issues until they become full-blown crises.
Create an atmosphere where it is safe for your employees to bring issues forward for discussion, but with the expectation that they’ll be part of the solution.
I am not suggesting that you become a manager who has to know everything or solve every problem. I recommend creating an atmosphere where it is safe for your employees to bring issues forward for discussion, but with the expectation that they’ll be part of the solution. In that environment, when you and your staffer discuss a problem, you can brainstorm an answer together.
Depending on the scope of the issue, the employee who brings it to you may notbe able to resolve it on his own. But if you put a group together to attack it, the employee who brought it to you can learn from being on the team. Next time he has a problem, he may have new skills that he can use to solve it on his own.
It’s not easy to be a manager. You want to support your employees, but you also want them to be able to stand on their own so that they can develop the necessary skills to be successful and advance in their careers. Encourage your employees to bring their problems to you but not to hand them over for you to solve. Show them that they can be part of the solution and that you’ll be there to support them.
Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].