Do you remember the two-part podcast I recorded with James Mylett, SVP, U.S. Digital Buildings at Schneider Electric? If you haven’t listened, there are many nuggets of wisdom throughout the conversation. I read an article the other day, though, that brought back to mind one of his points – how much he values root cause analysis (and how often it is rushed past). During the podcast he said, “When you think about a problem, everybody wants to go to ideation, and we don’t spend enough time first identifying the root cause of the problem. And so, my bias is to start at the problem and work backwards from that and put a solution in place that’s supported with data.”
This article by Sabina Nawaz in Harvard Business Review examines an even deeper layer of leadership misstep than failing to analyze root cause – discussing leaders who insist employees “bring me a solution, not a problem.” As Nawaz states in the article, this mentality can be chalked up to wanting to avoid employees complaining or “whining” and the hope to empower employees more by forcing them to solve problems.
But there is power within problems, and leaders who don’t want to dig into root case – or worse, don’t want to even hear about problems – are overlooking a critical source of insight and perspective. Now of course we don’t want to create a culture where employees are whining about every minute “problem” they encounter – but if we are hiring strong talent and empowering them, would they? Doubtful. The problems your employees surface are important to them for a reason – and being open to listening and engaging is not only key to employee satisfaction but can reveal opportunities that would otherwise lie dormant.
The Frontline Perspective
In field service, the importance of this topic is amplified because you are relying on a mostly remote workforce to be the face of your brand. The deal with customers often and encounter questions, thoughts, opinions, and yes – problems – others within your business don’t. They have an especially powerful line into what customers think, want, and need. Their take on what problems customers have can point you in the direction of how to improve and evolve your service offerings.
At the same time, they play an especially impactful role in the Customer Experience; so, listening to their “problems” is also important. If there’s a frustration or issue keeping them from doing their job well, a leader should want to understand that so that it can be resolved and the employee experience – and customer experience – protected.
This tendency of leaders to want to silence problems feels like an outdated mentality in a category along with fear of failure. Modern leaders who recognize the importance of culture and value the perspective of their talent don’t want to avoid hearing of problems, they want an openness to surface issues along with a collective willingness to dig in and solve them. They know that innovation doesn’t occur without failure and encourage employees to talk and think and try because they know if the responsibility to make the business better is shared, success is more likely.
I often say, a problem doesn’t go away because you aren’t willing to talk about it. Employees who feel silenced will stew about whatever it is that is challenging them – and that will inevitably cause diminished performance than what they are capable of. We need to be not only able but committed to digging into problems because we see every one as a learning opportunity, and we need to take James’ advice to really understand their root cause before we jump to a solution.