A common leadership adage is to say to staff “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions”. At first glance, it’s a wise thing to request. Digging deeper, though, I’m not so sure. I see two ways this thinking doesn’t always work.
Solve It Together
First is the issue of trying to have one person come up with a solution, when bringing the problem to others may be of more value. To paraphrase Adam Grant, you can create a situation “where each person comes into the situation locked into their way of solving the problem and lobbies hard for that particular solution rather than considering multiple perspectives“. Bringing the problem to others may result in much better solution.
Go Do It
The other side is asking why people would come to me with solutions in most cases anyhow. If your team is adequately empowered, and they come across a solution to a problem they were facing, they should just go implement the solution. Don’t bring me the solution – just go do it.
This is often a problem in larger organizations, particularly with customer-facing staff, and I try to remember that when working with customer service folks as a customer. The solution to my frustration might be obvious to both of us, but the customer service rep simply isn’t allowed to think outside the box. Avoiding that trap is how companies like Zappos grew so quickly, as this NPR article from a few years ago showcases nicely — employees can do whatever it takes to serve their customers.
There are certainly times when I need some help and a solution is greatly appreciated, but treating that approach as the best way to go about your business is often not the best move.