One well-known axiom says that the first step to solving a problem is recognizing that the problem exists. Another wise saying goes: Don’t shoot the messenger.

At the intersection of these two ideas is the business leader, eager to improve operations but also innately defensive about the status quo. Leaders who can overcome the initial discomfort of having their organization’s shortcomings laid bare before them are agents of positive change.

The Right Questions Lead to the Right Answers

When an employee raises uncomfortable issues, ask these three questions to guide your response.

Is this the first time the issue has been raised? If it is, it might be worth investigating why it was never brought to management’s attention before. Was truly no one in the entire chain of command aware? Or could it be that cynicism has set in, and employees no longer believe that raising an issue will come to anything? If the latter is true, the roots of the problem may be widespread and could catastrophically undermine the company.

Has the problem been “solved’ before? Unless your company is very new, the odds are that the problem – or a very similar one – has arisen in the past. Look back at what steps were taken to address it previously. Speak to the people who were in your shoes when the solutions were implemented. Investigate whether the efforts were aimed at actually resolving the matter or simply a Band-Aid. Formulate a long-term solution.

Is it an isolated issue? If one brave person has finally decided to bring a problem to your attention, the odds are that several others who were aware chose not to. Problematic issues are rarely isolated; they tend to permeate an organization if left unchecked. Instead of rushing to solve the topic that was raised on its own, call together managers from different departments and find out if something more significant may be required.

Acknowledge the Disruption

Finding the courage to highlight an issue that could have major repercussions downstream is not always easy. Shooting the messenger is convenient because it gives managers a respite from facing difficult scenarios.

Ultimately, an organization’s leadership plays an active part in creating the work environment around them. How you respond to the feedback you receive today dictates the nature (and quantity) of feedback you receive in the future. Act on the information and solve problems together to induce a climate of responsible action around you.

Contact me today if you have any questions about how you can help promote proactive problem solving in your organization.