If you tell people how to fix things, you’re not getting commitment—at best, you’re getting agreement.
Why Have a System for Solving Problems?
Often, as a manager, people bring you problems with the expectation that you will come up with solutions. While it may be flattering to think of yourself as a clever problem-solver, generating a quick solution for one of your sales team members is counterproductive for two reasons. First, it could merely generate new problems. Unless your team member comes up with a solution themselves, they will have difficulty seeing it through. So, when questions or new problems arise, they will turn those over to you as well. Second, when you tell people how to fix something, they are less likely to show independence, exercise their judgment, or use their own problem-solving skills.
Problem-solving should be developmental and requires meaningful participation on the part of your people. If your sales team is consistently participating in the problem-solving process, they will achieve a sense of involvement and a feeling of influence. When people know they can influence outcomes, their commitment is significantly increased. And something magical happens when participation leads to commitment: your sales team members develop ownership in the solution.
The Five Step Problem-Solving Process
Here is a five-step problem-solving process to engender a sense of commitment from your people. Next time a team member brings you a problem, work through it with them using this framework.
1. Define the goal and barrier. In other words, what are we trying to accomplish—and what barrier is standing in the way? The goal should be defined in terms of outcomes. Ask your sales rep what their goal is with the situation or problem at hand, and then generate a list of barriers that seem to be in the way. The barrier(s) are the problem(s) to address.
2. Do a situation analysis. If the problem has been ongoing, discuss what has had a positive impact on the barrier so far and what hasn’t. Review actions to date and make a T-chart (shown below). In addition, add any events or activities that seem related but don’t fit neatly into something that worked or didn’t work. If this is a brand-new problem, help your team member look at past experiences before formulating an action plan for the new problem at hand.
3. Generate options. This is done in two phases. The first is brainstorming to come up with options and ideas. The second is rating, which prioritizes those ideas in terms of their quality and the resources involved in implementing them. Brainstorming should be a non-critical activity that gets ideas out on the table, and rating assigns the man order and value. After the options have been evaluated, empower your team member to choose one – don’t choose it for them.
4. Set up an action plan. What are you going to do? What resources will be required? Who is going to do it? When is it going to be done? Why (and what is your intent)? How are you going to measure success? Also, in this step, review contingencies. Have your sales rep ask themselves, “If this solution doesn’t work, is there a fallback plan?” For example, if they can’t get an appointment with the key decision maker, who else could be helpful?
5. Monitor and follow-up. Plans require energy and attention. Once the action plan to address the problem is set, it must be monitored and adjusted as necessary.
Teach Your Team the Five Steps
If you immediately take over every time one of your reps presents a problem, they will develop a dependency relationship with you. You reinforce them in bringing their problems to you. That’s non-developmental, it wastes a lot of your time, and no one wins.
A key benefit of using this five-step model (or a similar one) is that, through repetition, these steps become second nature to your team. This increases their ability to solve problems on their own. In other words, by coaching your team to use this problem-solving process consistently, you’re boosting your effectiveness as a leader.
Remember: If you tell people how to fix things, you’re not getting commitment—at best, you’re getting agreement.