Fix the Problem Not the People?

I’ve repeatedly seen this admonition in corporate literature that you should focus on the problem and not the people when attempting to find solutions. I’ve also heard it asked, repeatedly, what do you do when the problem is the people?

I’ve gone back and forth, over the years, regarding how valid that question is. There are certainly times where it has looked or felt like the person was the problem. I’ve moved away from that some for the same reason I dislike expressing a position’s time utilization as a percentage; no two people are necessarily equal in ability. I have done assembly work that was only around 70% utilized for me, but was upwards of 95% for my neighbor. It wasn’t a lack of effort, oh how she tried. Day in, day out, no matter how hard she tried, how much advise, suggestions, and help we gave, she simply could not perform at the same level. Not her fault, it’s just how it is. Different people have different skill sets.

This leads me back to the idea that the problem, then, would be where and how you’re using that individual. A simple mismanagement of matching skill sets to job demands. There are still additional problems though. Sometimes a specific employer simply doesn’t have a task really suited to a particular individual’s abilities. Some people just don’t take well to the sort of repetitive manual labor found in a manufacturing environment. Some people are just generally slow. When I worked at Subway back in the day we had `   ‘;l 7=

someone like that. Slow as molasses, but reliable, and I’ve often found reliable ends up being more valuable.

What do you do, then, when all you have are fast jobs? The obvious answer is to try and rearrange work so that one particular job is more suited to their abilities but this can quickly go down a rabbit hole of “that’s not fair, you made their job easier and my job harder,” which is technically true. Alternatively you could hire additional labor and make everyone’s work load a little lighter, but this is an expensive proposition. It’s essentially doubling labor cost for that position, which may not be affordable. Could also have the whole “I don’t think this is going to work out” moment. It’s possible to have a situation where there’s nothing suited to a particular individual and the only workable option is to let them go. I wouldn’t say that the person is the problem in that case. Could be the hiring and onboarding process needs work, but sometimes you just can’t really know these things until after the fact.

Maybe the whole point of the thing is to discourage people in leadership positions from looking at someone and telling them that they’re the problem. To encourage them to look for alternative solutions first.

I don’t know, I don’t really consider myself a particularly good manager anyway. It’s way easier to sit here and talk about it than it is to actually do it.

2 thoughts on “Fix the Problem Not the People?

  1. I read your whole post in the context of MMO raiding and found some remarkable parallels.

    I’m not particularly fond of leadership and management roles these days, but on occasion I like to do some reading into psychology, mediation and so on. These days, I wonder if it is so hard to actually -talk- to the person perceived as the problem and -listen- to their perspective, before coming up with some solutions -with- their buy-in. It strikes me that whatever solution proposed would be all the better for it, since the “problem” person would feel like they either had some say in it or that their perceived obstacle was being addressed.

    Granted, twenty years ago, I was a lot more abrupt and judgemental, both irl and in game guild leadership. Mistakes were made, or at least, places I could have done much better and possibly reached more amicable solutions. Guess there’s something to be said for wisdom accumulating with age and experience, after one sees more leadership styles across the spectrum.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, I hadn’t actually considered it from a raid/guild leader point of view, but I suppose leadership is leadership.

      I actually don’t know that I’ve ever really found myself in a leadership position in a gaming context. On the corporate end it more often works out that someone has identified a problem from a distance. The better ones go and seek to understand the problem, but more often they’re looking for a quick and easy solution. They’re not interested in solving the problem, they just want it to go away.

      More frustrating is that it’s nearly impossible to get small problems addressed early. Everyone is so busy putting out the capital P Problems that the little ones just get swept along until they’re Problems too.

      I think the same thing applies to the gaming area though. Many times have I seen small conflicts go unresolved until someone has had enough and kicks up a storm over it.

      I like to think that we do accumulate experience and perspective with age, but have to remind myself that age is not itself an indicator of those things. Everyone is on their own timeline. The process doesn’t stop either, but continues as we age.


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