Always Have Options for Solutions When Presenting Problems

By Penny Macias | February 24, 2016

Imagine going to the doctor and receiving a diagnosis or going to the mechanic and learning what's wrong with your car. As soon as you hear about the problem, you expect to hear what your options are for a solution. You want to know what treatments are available, how much they'll cost, how long it will take, etc. You expect the expert to answer all of these questions because that's partly why you pay them - to diagnose AND resolve. You also expect them to bring in other experts when necessary. You want the best possible solution available and when you get it, your trust in that expert increases.

The same can be said of leaders and those they rely on to accomplish goals and tasks. They expect the people they hire to have some level of expertise in their field to advise when problems arise. Leaders can have 50 problems presented to them in a single day. If they don't receive balanced and informed recommendations for solutions, they aren't able to lead effectively and efficiently.

How Can You Be the Expert When Presenting Problems Along with Solutions?

Find Solutions
Your first reaction to news of a crisis or problem may be to immediately take it to your supervisor. Before taking that step, ask yourself some simple questions. Here are a few I always try:

  • How did the problem arise? How can I concisely explain how the problem arose? How much background information do I need to prepare?
  • Have we had this problem before? How did we handle similar situations in the past?
  • Are there legal requirements we must consider in any solution? What are those requirements?
  • If my boss won't be the final decision maker in the solution, how can I provide a packet for him or her to share the information higher up in the chain? Does a memo need to be provided? What documents need to be attached?
  • What are three possible solutions and the implications of each? How much will each solution cost?  How much time will each solution take? How likely is the solution to be successful in resolving the actual problem?

Ultimately, you want to anticipate as many questions as possible that may come up so you can be prepared to answer those immediately. If it takes too much time to answer the questions, you run the risk of appearing unprepared and running out of time for some solutions that are only available for a short period.

Set a Deadline to Present
Each problem is going to have a different level of urgency. You must think of that immediately and be careful not to spend too much time looking for solutions. You must know your audience and know the problem in setting a deadline for when you'll present the problem and solutions. When thinking of a deadline, here are a few things to consider:

  • How many minutes, hours, or days can I delay in sharing the problem before my boss thinks I was trying to hide something?
  • At what point should I expect my boss to find out through other sources?
  • How much time will it take for my boss to make a decision and share with top leaders?

The answer to these questions will determine how long you can work on a list of solutions before you must share the problem. It's never okay to hide a problem from your manager or withhold information when time is of the essence. There may be situations where you don't have time to come up with solutions. In those cases, don't waste time. Go straight to whoever needs to be informed. However, when there's a safe window of time, use it to be informed.

In addition to just being better equipped to advise a leader, you'll likely find you're getting better at being a leader yourself. A leader who expects these traits is helping develop his team. He or she is requiring them to think and allowing them to experience being a part of the solution. A good leader is well aware that nurturing those who will rise after he exits is sometimes more valuable to the organization than any single task he can do alone.