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I pledge to just say no when asked to solve a problem!

It occurred to me recently that I may be missing opportunities for growth at Paranet. I’m not talking about sales, I’m talking about not nurturing my staff’s ability to solve problems and think critically. I don’t believe I am alone. During a conversation in our monthly Group Director meeting, several people commented on Paranet members’ frustration that people continuously come to them with problems rather than attempting to solve them on their own. On the surface this might seem to be a delegation 101 problem. I think it goes deeper. There may be two underlying factors at play.

  1. The last couple of generations have been trained to let others problem-solve, thereby taking away the risk of failure. And, leaders are afraid to let them fail. Failure hurts but it also defines character and causes us to be stronger.

I find it frustrating to spend my time on someone else’s problem and yet I do. I can do it quicker and better. I became an adult. But how did I get to this point? People expected me to problem-solve first and worry about failure last. What are my expectations of people?

I always thought problem solving came naturally to me. But looking back, I believe I was trained and developed to be that way so subtly I didn’t realize it. I was lucky to be guided by people who held me accountable. There were times when I felt frightened by my lack of experience and knowledge. I had parents, coaches, teachers and bosses who thought I could and should … so I did. Am I returning that gift to others?

Even if curiosity comes naturally, that spark needs to be harnessed and directed towards problem-solving and continuous improvement. When you don’t have the skills to play a sport, you get a coach. When you need to put something together, you have instructions. Most people need a framework from which to work.

  1. Our information-overloaded society is populated with one-dimensional people who have become lazy thinkers. I am a believer in not reinventing the wheel, however someone had to first invent the wheel!

Technology allows everyone to be an expert in minutes … just “google” it. People solve problems by searching the Internet and “finding the answers.” They reshuffle and repackage ideas and thoughts. Where are the original ideas? Where is innovation of thought? Why has it become so popular to take the easy way?

Technology allows information to be instantly at our fingertips. This encourages the workforce to merely recirculate existing ideas rather than create new thoughts and inspiration. With the economy booming Paranet members are asked to do an extraordinary amount of work with a constant lack of skilled workers, limited resources and a demanding timeline. Has this caused us to justify limiting the value we put on innovation, the very core of the United States contribution to the manufacturing industry? Has it become more important to “just get things done” rather find new and better ways, products and services? This may work in the short term, but it’s a strategy for future failure because it will stunt growth and make you a weak competitor.

Here are five things to do to create a robust, problem-solving workforce:

  1. Allow people to fail but not become a failure. Encourage decisions to be made based on sound logic and integrity. If it does not work out, use the knowledge learned in the process to adjust the approach. At times, what we discover in the process is more valuable than the ultimate outcome. This is the process of innovation.
  2. Stop being the “go to” person for your subordinates to solve problems. Be the last step in the process.
  3. Start treating your people as the “go to” people for problem-solving. They will rise to the occasion. Give them the opportunity to make you proud!
  4. Provide training and tools on project management and problem-solving. This will offer a framework from which to work.
  5. Reiterate that using the Internet is just one of the tools in their toolbox, not the basis for their next great idea. Networking with others, brainstorming with peers, taking a class, etc. should be in the box as well.

The Paranet Membership consists of manufacturing executives who amaze me all the time in the way they look at issues and create new ideas. Innovation through trial and error is what they do, and they do it as a community. Many manufacturing companies come together to solve problems and create new ideas . . . it’s almost magical.

They have created a place that fosters growth through the dynamic of live participation and being present. This adult experience is powerful, and as a community it will continue to foster like experiences for next generations. With this forethought, manufacturers will continue to lead the evolution of leaders and ideas.

They don’t need the answers, they need the tools. That is our responsibility and how we can ensure continued growth, evolution and innovation for years to come.

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Kelly Rudy is originally from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, the state she has called home most of her life. Kelly graduated from Loyola University-Chicago with honors, earning a bachelor’s degree in communication and marketing. She earned her MBA from Marquette University and is a certified professional behavioral analyst. Prior to joining The Paranet Group, Kelly participated in sales and marketing at Olympus Group, formally Olympus Flag & Banner.

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