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Are Two Heads Better Than Yours?

Are Two Heads Better Than Yours?

Engaging Your Employees to Find and Solve Problems

Are Two Heads Better Than Yours?

John Holobinko, Managing Director, Business Reimagined, LLC

As a leader of a business, whether a small business or a part of a larger business, the burden and pressure can feel immense. 

Some leaders find themselves in a position where they feel that only they can see all of the problems that the business has.  They don’t see anyone else in the company who will take on the responsibility and carry through to address an issue to completion.  So, the entire burden rests on the shoulders of the business leader.

What most of these leaders fail to recognize is that within their business, there are employees that will see a problem, and some of them have ideas for how to solve a problem as well.  The challenge is that the work environment is such that they don’t feel that they will be heard or don’t feel that they will be empowered sufficiently to address the problem.  And as the business leader, you are not so confident that if you empowered them, that the solution they came up with would work, or even make the problem worse.

How do you enlist the help of your employees, when you don’t even know which one can be of help?

The first thing is to begin to foster an openness.  Depending on the size of your business and how you operate, this means setting up a regular cadence of meetings with employees.  Depending on how your business operates and when employees are available, It can be a one to one 5 minute visit, or a brief group meeting. In these meetings, begin to share what you see as some issues, and see if they agree. The purpose of this is to begin to build a level of trust with them, sharing your thoughts – but without complaining.

After you do this for a few weeks, it is time to proceed to the next step.  That is to ask them what they see as problems, and if they have any ideas on how to solve one of the problems you discuss. 

If someone does come forward, praise them on the spot for their observation, whether or not the solution is viable. And if it is viable, find a way for that person or persons to be involved with the solution.  You don’t have to give up approval, but just empower them while you supervise at a distance.  Thin of it as the President Reagan form of management “Trust but verify”.

If a solution is made, no matter how small, recognize the employee for his/her contribution in such a way that other employees are aware of the recognition.

If you are able to engage employees, don’t be surprised if over time, you may find that one or more employees come to you unsolicited with a solution, or a problem with a proposed solution.  That is the ideal.  It doesn’t happen overnight, because it takes you to create an atmosphere of openness and trust.

Why not just put up a suggestion box and offer a little cash bonus for suggestions?  Because that does not create an environment of openness and trust.  And it doesn’t foster a culture of collaboration.  You want your employees to feel some empowerment to positively impact their own environment.

The first step starts with you and a small investment of your time each week.  Take out your appointment calendar, and set a recurring activity either to meet one on one, or meet as a group each week, to discuss how your business is doing and share a challenge or two.  You will not change things overnight.  Investments take time to yield a positive return.  But the probability is good that you will build trust and soon the burden of finding the solution to every problem won’t be only on your shoulders.  Instead, you will have employees who think of things that you haven’t thought of and will come forward with positive contributions to your business.

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