Has your boss ever asked you to do something insanely stupid? No? Then, you’re the boss, right?
For the rest of you, here’s an example. Boss declares, “Let’s ask all our employees how much they want to pay for their medical insurance.” Or maybe, “Please pull all employees for the last six years by date of birth.” Here’s a favorite: “Let’s survey all our employees to see if they are happy.” Are you kidding me?
Is there anything wrong with these questions or requests? Maybe, maybe not. We won’t know until we ask one powerful question:
What is the problem we are trying to solve?
Too many reports are pulled, surveys sent, data reviewed, benefits changed, and decisions made without ever really understanding the underlying reason. Most of these started because someone initially had an idea of the problem they were trying to solve. But somewhere along the line, and with the increasing data and information received, the root of the question was lost. The decision was made, the work was done, and the reason remained unclear.
Without a clear understanding of the problem you are trying to solve, the result is rarely optimal. It is also often challenged by those tasked with the job. Predictably, that’s followed with internal gossip. It often sounds something like, “Can you even believe they made this decision without asking anyone?” or, “Can you believe I have to run all these reports and no one ever does anything with them?” or, “I’m so sick of just doing busy work.” Sound familiar?
By the way, once is not enough when it comes to the process of making sure you understand the problem you are trying to solve. Revisiting it often is important, especially as more information is gathered, people become involved, or the scope changes.
Look, no one wants their employees doing busy work or feeling like they are doing something that has no value. So, the next time you are about to ask someone to do something, pause and ask yourself, “What exactly is the problem I am trying to solve by doing this?” If you don’t immediately get a clear answer, put that project on hold and get more information. If the answer is very clear, share the reason with the person you are asking to do the work. I promise you a more engaged interaction, invested employee, and better outcome!
Here’s to better problem solving!