Well, What Do You Recommend?

Well, What Do You Recommend?
7 Minute Read

The world is filled with problems, boundless problems!  Some problems are easy: what should I have for lunch? What color socks should I wear today?  Should I get gas now or see how far I can drive on the yellow light (well, maybe that one is not so easy)? And some problems are difficult: how do we create more jobs in the U.S. economy? How do we achieve peace among warring nations? How do we solve for global climate change? All of these certainly represent the spectrum of problems with which we are bombarded on a daily basis, be it on the news or in our personal lives.

But what about the workplace? Business is certainly not immune to problems. In fact, we teach in business school that the most successful companies exist for the sole purpose of solving problems. Restaurants solve the problem of hunger, UPS and FedEx solves the problem of getting objects from point-A to point-B and Ikea solves the problem of giving us a place to put our knickknacks; every business solves a problem and knows how to do it better or more uniquely than anyone else. We, as individuals working for these organizations, should be no different. But if that’s the objective, why do so many people focus their time and energy on enumerating problems rather than offering up solutions?

Every day we are confronted with a slew of business issues.  They come at us with every email we receive or meeting we attend.  Some common ones we all run into are:

Problem 1 …we are over budget and behind schedule…

Problem 2 …we do not have the resources in-house to do what we need to do…

Problem 3 …we had a bunch of findings from the last audit…

Problem 4 …we had a data breach…

Problem 5 …we do not have stakeholder buy-in on the plan…

…and the list goes on…

There is a seemingly endless onslaught of problems that arise in the course of a business day.  The key is to not think in terms of problems but rather solutions to address those problems.  We train our consultants from very early in their careers that their job really is not a consultant but professional problem solver.  Sure they have a set of tools they can pull from their toolkit, and a set of experiences from which they can draw upon, but at their core, they are really just solution-oriented people.  But you do not have to be a consultant to be solution-oriented.  All you have to do is stop and ask yourself the question “what do I recommend?”  Pause and think about the problem at hand and determine: what is the possible universe of options to address this problem.  Resist the temptation to run to your boss and ask “we have a problem, what do we do?” If you take a few moments to pause and re-frame the problem into a solution (or series of options), chances are you will come up with something reasonable.

So instead of bringing your boss the laundry list of problems above expecting him or her to solve for you, think through the potential solutions and ask “what do I recommend?”  The list of problems above, rephrased as potential solutions, may look something like this:

Problem 1 …we are over budget and behind schedule…

Solution-Oriented Response

We ran the analysis and we are currently over budget and running behind schedule. The project team has decided to focus on the critical items that need to be completed before the next major release and scope out any non-essential functionality that can wait for future releases. If we do this, we will get back on schedule in two weeks and the budget will fall in line immediately. Does this sound like a reasonable approach to you?

Problem 2 …we do not have the resources in-house to do what we need to do…

Solution-Oriented Response

The plan we discussed calls for specialized resources we do not have in-house at this time. We did a market scan and came up with three potential vendors who can provide this service. I recommend we put together our high-level requirements and work with procurement to release and RFI or an RFP from these vendors. It sounded like this project is fairly urgent so I recommend we start immediately. Are you OK with this plan?

Problem 3 …we had a bunch of findings from the last audit…

Solution-Oriented Response

Our auditors came back with a list of findings based on their last controls review. They determined our provisioning and de-provisioning process is ineffective. I have reviewed the findings in detail and I will begin looking for compensating controls. I also recommend we address the auditor’s findings by investigating technology tools and focus on re-engineering the identity lifecycle processes. Here’s what a project like that may look like in terms of scope, time and budget…

Problem 4 …we had a data breach…

Solution-Oriented Response

We just found out that experienced a data breach of 700 patient records. As you know, this is above the threshold for patient notification mandated by HIPAA. I recommend we convene our incident response team to begin analyzing the problem, containing the incident and begin recovery and notification efforts. I have compiled the list of stakeholders necessary for this meeting and it looks like everyone is available today at 4:00 PM. I wanted to confirm this plan with you before I send out the invitation and convene the group.

Problem 5 …we do not have stakeholder buy-in on the plan…

Solution-Oriented Response

The plan we released last week still has a number of stakeholders who do not agree with the approach. We met as a team to analyze our options and I wanted to get your opinion on the right approach. We came up with three potential options. Option 1…. Option 2… Option 3… Based on the facts, we believe that option 2 may be our safest bet. Based on your experience and knowledge of our culture, which option seems the best to you?

What a difference, eh?

The real difference between the two lists is the presence of a solution or at least a set of options leading to a solution. The first list of problems is not constructive; it is a laundry list of patent observations that state the obvious: something is wrong. The second list of solution-oriented responses goes the extra mile of thinking through what we need to do in order to solve the problem, or at least take steps towards solving the problem.

Now I know what you’re thinking… This approach assumes that you have the experience and/or know-how to come up with solutions on your own. What do you do if you are faced with a real stumper? Something so complex and difficult that it borders solving for climate change or making peace among warring states?  Well, I didn’t say you needed to solve the problem itself nor do you have to do it on your own; you just need to show that you have a plan in place and have thought through next steps and options.  Complex problems often require convening a team of people – often experts in their field – to brainstorm and analyze options. But be careful… Do not go into these meetings unprepared or without an agenda. You must do your homework and bring as many of the facts as possible. Come prepared to explain the situation, the complicating factors, and the analysis you performed.  To the extent you can, outline some options with pros/cons, benefits/risks and costs/effort associated with each scenario. The more due diligence you can perform before going into a brainstorming meeting, the more likely you are to arrive at a successful outcome (and the smarter you will look and feel…seriously!).

So, what does all this mean to you? 

The next time you are faced with an issue or a problem, ask yourself: “what do I recommend?” If the answer is clear, then lead with that recommendation. If you come up with a number of options, describe them and (if possible) indicate your preference for a particular option path. On the odd occasion that you are totally stumped and cannot fathom a way forward, grab a peer or a group of peers to brainstorm some potential options. If you can find someone with experience in solving similar problems, even better.  Remember, if you go to your boss and brief him or her on the problem and recommend convening a group to analyze options, that is still better than bringing him or her the laundry list of issues with no path forward. The point is: solution-orientation is a skill set we can all develop. It just takes the added effort to ask ourselves: “what do I recommend?”

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By |2018-07-27T23:00:24+00:00April 10th, 2014|Categories: Communication|Tags: , , |

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