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HBR – Asking for Solutions, but Listening to Problems

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HBR – Asking for Solutions, but Listening to Problems

HBR – Asking for Solutions, but Listening to Problems

August 18, 2020  share     

Great management and culture-building insights from a Harvard Business Review article called “The Problem With Saying Don’t Bring Me Problems, Bring Me Solutions.”  In fact, the insight is even more poignant when taken in a cross-cultural context.  Early in my career I had a series of managers who taught me to always operate to the “Doctrine of Completed Staff Work” and not bother the boss until, I had a complete recommendation backed with a solid rationale and some alternatives for review.  This can be efficient, and with the right employee it can help them learn confidence and independence.


As the article indicates, the downside to this style is that a manager runs the risk of driving a culture where the boss is not involved in the discussion of the problem and may miss problems or other important information.  The manager may also discourage employees who are still learning and trying to build confidence.  This second issue can be even more problematic in a cross-cultural or international context.  The usual cultural friction and uncertainty between a manager from one culture and an employee from another that has a higher power distance can render any useful discussion impossible. 


Like almost any management technique, solution orientation has its place in the toolbox.  However, managers and leaders, especially those operating in a cross-cultural context, need to determine which employees and at which time to make use of the technique.