Self-Solving Dynamics: No More Superhero Managers

super-managerDependence-Based Management

My office in the lower level of the department store was the first one in the executive office suite and I kept my door open most of the time because I had no windows. And as the head of HR, I was the one everyone came to with all kinds of issues, from advice on how to deal with an underperforming employee, to where to access keys to the storeroom. At the time, I was one of the most proficient with the new computers that were slowly taking traction, so I was also the Help Desk and printer-unjammer. I admit, there was a part of me that enjoyed being so important! They say knowledge is power, and as the one who interacted with virtually everyone and every aspect of the store, I knew a lot!

But I was finding myself working long hours to get all of my work done due to the constant interruptions. I’d shut my door for a while to have a few minutes of focus, but it wasn’t long before I heard a knock on my door, or sometimes a full-fledged barge-in, and I’d find myself shifting gears to help the person in front of me.

Often I would try to schedule time with the interrupter so that I could finish the task at hand, but that wasn’t always an easy solution, especially in a multi-shift, 7-days-a week retail environment. Something had to be done or I was always going to find myself behind on my work and resentful for the interruptions.

I began to switch my approach from giving the answer immediately and spending time explaining the details to asking questions to make the other person think through the options and the best course of action, or to discover their own solution. When employees came to me to complain about each other, I pushed the resolution back on them rather than solving things for them. I had to let go of that feeling of being “in charge” and pack up my superman cape (or at least hide it under my suit jacket!) and allow folks to think things through on their own.

At first it’s very difficult to resist the temptation to be the hero with a fix, or at least a scapegoat for those who don’t want the accountability of making a decision. I had to get used to making it their problem, not mine. And they had to get used to coming up with their own solutions.

Empowerment & Accountability

There is a need for empowerment and accountability in the way we lead staff. These are not new concepts, yet are often weakly applied by well-meaning or, sometimes, controlling managers who step in to direct the behaviors of their employees. Empowerment – putting the power to handle situations on another – means I have to release that power so that the other person can pick it up.

Accountability shifts the responsibility for outcomes to the right person(s). If a manager holds themselves accountable for solving interpersonal issues on the team, or directing day-to-day activities (a la micromanaging), then employees will never hold themselves accountable. So it requires that I, as a manager, change my mindset to place accountability with the individuals involved, whether the issue is communication, task performance, or tactical decision-making.

We know, logically, that empowerment and accountability make sense, but between our need to control, a mistrust of our staff, and a mindset that says, “it’s easier to do it myself,” we build dependence that is both time-consuming and debilitating to our direct reports.

Self-Solving Dynamics

The idea behind self-solving dynamics is to shift responsibility to the people impacted by the outcomes. Instead of the boss fixing problems from operational setbacks to interpersonal challenges, self-solving dynamics places the burden of a solution on the shoulders of those who identified the problem (or opportunity) in the first place.

Self-solving dynamics takes a commitment by management to resist the temptation to be a fixer and instead be an enabler. I don’t mean enabling in the negative sense of allowing codependent behaviors, but in the opposite sense of allowing independent behaviors that lead to self-efficacy. If we want a workplace in which individuals at all levels are cognitively engaged, applying their whole being to not only attain organizational objectives, but achieve personal fulfillment as well, we have got to let go and trust that people will figure it out.

Students of leadership will remember the Theory X and Theory Y models presented by Douglas McGregor. Theory X managers see followers as disliking work, avoiding responsibility, and need constant supervision. Theory Y managers, on the other hand, view followers as individuals who seek and accept responsibility and want to solve work problems imaginatively.

It requires a Theory Y leadership mindset to allow self-solving dynamics to flourish. But with a workforce that has been victimized by poor leadership and mistrust, it takes intentional commitment to training, coach, and developing followers to gain confidence and skill. It also requires managers to reflect on their management style and asking for feedback from colleagues and direct reports.

 

Self-Solving Dynamics Defined

Self-Solving Dynamics is the practice of shifting responsibility for solving problems in from the manager to those impacted.

Moving Toward Self-Solving Dynamics

To make the shift to self-solving dynamics requires a realization that followers have been conditioned to ask the boss to solve problems, especially interpersonal or inter-team problems, and that bosses, for a variety of reasons, have obliged. To make the shift…

  • Be aware of your tendency to solve problems for others, and the motivations behind those tendencies (power, self-importance, expediency).
  • Practice asking questions when people come to you for solutions, rather than jumping in immediately.
  • Be comfortable with mistakes; allow followers to learn by doing (just like you probably did!).
  • Be available for consultation, but leave the burden with the one(s) with a problem. Allow them to own the solution. Coach, but don’t solve for them!
  • Ask them to prepare a “lessons learned” summary, which will help them hone their self-solving skills and allow you to celebrate and coach more specifically.

So the next time an employee knocks on your door and wants you to solve a problem for them, tuck your superhero cape back inside your shirt and use the principles of self-solving dynamics to make them a superhero that can soar on their own!

 

From the Research Desk

Cornerstone Global Research Desk

 

 

 

 

 

Leading Positively With PMI’s

According to Dr. Kim Cameron of the University of Michigan Center for Positive Organizations, there are four strategies of positive leadership:

  1. Enabling positive climate
  2. Relationships
  3. Communication
  4. Meaning

The best way to implement these strategies is through a Personal Management Interview (PMI) Program. A PMI has two components: a role negotiation session, where the manager and employee talk through expectations, responsibilities, accountability, and other rules of engagement. The second component is regular ongoing face-to-face meetings.

Read Dr. Cameron’s At-a-glance summary on Leading Positively with PMI’s.

Cornerstone Global can help you get started on your PMI program. Contacts us at info@cornerstoneglobaltps.com 

Recommended Reading…

 

Turn Resolutions into Meaningful Goals

Peak Performance

Cornerstone Global Training & Performance Solutions: Peak Performance Digest

 

 

 

Men (and women) should pledge themselves to nothing;
for reflection makes a liar of their resolution. -Sophocles

 

Sophocles appears to have had a dim view of resolutions. Your own performance may attest to his observation…the commitment to join the gym in January that lasts until February, followed by months of guilt. Our good intentions give way to old habits more quickly than it took to eat that “just one more” Christmas treat!

A new year seems to be a perfect time for a fresh start. As we pin up a new calendar on the wall with no history of missed opportunity, 365 empty boxes that represent all that is possible, we optimistically say, “this year is going to be different.”

Resolving to improve ourselves and our circumstances is hardwired in to the human experience. But often the behaviors and beliefs that keep us back are deep-rooted and unconscious. That includes how we lead ourselves and others as well as how we manage our work.

So what do we do when we want to improve but are reluctant to make resolutions? Follow these three steps to create meaningful goals that have a higher chance of success than a simple “resolution.”

  1. Narrow your focus. When goals are fuzzy, or we have too many of them, they quickly become overwhelming. Make a list of what you want to improve or accomplish and prioritize it . Chose 1-2 to start with, and wait until you have momentum and some success before adding another goal.
  2. Gather information. Take some time to research and reflect. Chances are you have some knowledge of your areas of improvement or accomplishment, but could probably benefit from some expert knowledge.
  3. Do something! Waiting for perfect conditions tends to stall us before we even get started. Break your goals into manageable chunks and milestones and give yourself credit for small wins. Don’t get discouraged when you backslide on your mission – acknowledge it, retool, and get back at it!

2015 Was a Great Year for Cornerstone Global

1154635395_3JjtW-O

 

 

 

 

 

What We’ve Been Up To…

  • Developing 3-5 year strategic plans with two non-profit clients
  • Creating process flow charts to improve new hire training and regulatory compliance
  • Writing technical documentation for financial services software
  • Managing multiple curriculum and documentation projects, including creating eLearning, job aids, and user guides
  • Helping a client navigate laws and policies related to transgender issues in the workplace

We’re looking forward to seeing what 2016 has in store!