“Oh Mighty Problem. We Worship You!” Do You have A Culture of Problem Worship?

In business we talk about problems. Stress and anxiety stem from all of the problems. In an average culture, problems are pushed to management by people who are taught to look up for solutions. There are meetings to discuss the ramifications and grave possibilities of problems.  Problems are well stated and dissected and left to grow. In middle management meetings there is frustration because the solutions coming down are not good enough.

This is a culture of problem worship. It fails to invert the energy to solutions! It does not teach about the excitement of solving the riddle and the upside of owning the solution. The owners of the problem are not accountable for solving the problems, but rather they are only accountable to explain the problems eloquently. The leadership team is overwhelmed with problems being pushed up to them from all over the company.

I have encountered this problem worship culture in every under-achieving company in which I have been asked to lead a transformation. Here are some tried and true steps to transform your culture from problem worship to leveraged problem solving:

  1. All leaders on the leadership team must agree, beginning immediately, to a new standard of solving problems. Problems will be prioritized and solved and no longer worshiped. In EOS we use IDS (Identify, Discuss, Solve). So there are credible methods to teach problem solving. It starts at the top, though, as a culture change.
  2. All leaders on the leadership team must accept this simple rule: We do not do other folks’ jobs. They do their jobs. We do ours. If we are doing other people’s work, then who is likely doing ours? Probably our boss! This is backwards and the key to leverage is empowerment and pushing work and opportunity down. So we need this switch flipped and fast.
  3. If you have time to think of a problem keep going and think of a solution. From now on, no problems should be presented for discussion or collaboration without a solution attached. Period. This applies to all team members at all levels. So when anyone brings a problem, it needs to have their already thought-through, best suggested solution attached. We may not stop there, but that is where we start.
  4. Persons bringing problems to you will throw them on you and run! Problem worshiping cultures are rampant with this. Here is a great article on what I call Monkey Management. HBR: Who’s Got the Monkey? A culture shift is needed. Going forward, if you champion a problem then you will stay with it. Problem ownership is not contagious. Help them and hand them the monkey back. Do not let that problem monkey jump on your shoulder. Push it down and help, but they own it.
  5. Issues and problems should be identified and solved as close to where they exist as possible and as far down in the business as is appropriate. Obviously some issues need to be escalated. Some issues should be passed up. Not many though.
  6. An empowered company requires the leadership team to have a healthy meeting cadence and a way of running meetings whereby 2/3 of the meeting time is dedicated to solving prioritized problems. Once again there are exceptional methods and tools to help here.
  7. Lastly, leaders must accept that delegation and empowerment allow teams to struggle, grow and learn how to prioritize and solve problems together. There will be no leverage, traction or succession plan without teaching all team members how to thrive in a problem solving culture.

Probably the most powerful cultural shift a leadership team can champion is this transformation from problem worshiping and passing the buck up to a culture of team members sleighing the problems in their scope and reaching up for more accountability and capability. It is liberating!

In all of my tune-ups, turnarounds and fix-ups over the years, this is the first place we go to speed up the successes and drive solutions to the marketplace. All leaders must truly buy-in and stand united to invert problem worship and start driving solutions at every level in the company! I highly recommend it.

Cheers! Happy Holidays!


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