One does not have to look very far to find articles on the problems organizations are facing. Financial challenges. Staffing shortages. Lack of supplies. Burnout. Communication shortfalls. These are all valid issues. Good leaders identify the problems; the best leaders do that and find solutions.
A culture of solutions must be cultivated. A good place to start is when a person brings you a problem, ask the question, What do you recommend? It matures the workplace.
When people focus on problems, it is like having a car that will not start and the mechanic telling you the car will not start. We know that. What we need to know is what to do next. What is the solution? And how do we implement it?
In 2000 when I started my first consulting company, I was both anxious and excited about the first appointment with a CEO. I spent time making a list of all the problems the company was facing. I was sharing my take on the problems, and he stopped me and said, “I know the problems, which is why you are here. I am paying you for solutions. I need there to be some quick ones.” It changed the whole conversation.
I ask people who are in a leadership role, if they leave their place of work and take a similar job in another organization, how long it will take them to identify some of the problems. I have never heard anyone say it would take more than two weeks. Yes, it’s good to identify the root of the problem. Many will be able to do that. The best leaders identify the problem (or said another way, the opportunities for improvement) and then implement solutions.
Yes, we want others to know we are aware of the situation. The normal challenges are:
- Staffing, staffing, staffing. How to find and keep workers.
- Increased labor expenses due to number one.
- Issues with supplies and their cost.
- Revenue not keeping up with the increase in expenses. For example, insurance costs have risen to such a degree that any revenue increase is used to cover insurance costs versus increasing staff wages. (This fact was brought up recently when I was at a session for childcare services.)
- Inexperience in the workforce. Over the past three years, many people have resigned. Those who have taken their place will be fine, but there is a period necessary for them to acquire the needed skills. These items have created longer hours and less teamwork. In addition to new coworkers, at least 25 percent of the workforce have different supervisors.
A leader or topic expert will be better off spending most of the time providing solutions versus reiterating a problem.
Do a complete self-inventory: Are you spending more time discussing the problem or providing the solution? As a leader, you want to have empathy for staffing challenges. The key is to move into discussing actions.
Determine what you can do to address the immediate issue. Yes, learning how we got to a place is valuable. However, first ask, “What can I do right now?” There is usually something.
Do not underestimate actions that may appear small. When I was president of a hospital, we had a staffing shortage in housekeeping. Considering that the number-one priority was clinical areas, we decided nonclinical areas could deal with their own garbage. If it needed to be emptied, they would take the bag and put it outside their door at a certain time (since these were not patient care areas, this was not an issue). We provided replacement bags as well as basic cleaning supplies for the touch-ups. The area that had to make the biggest change was administration.
This change came about after a housekeeper came into my office to empty my trash. I noticed the bag was empty. Even if the housekeeper did not have to take the bag out, they still used time to come into the office. I asked the housekeeper how much time would be gained if we just did our own trash so their time could be spent in the patient care areas. It was significant. Many wins came about from this small change. Most importantly, it demonstrated patient care came first.
Narrate actions (people appreciate a play-by-play). I love listening to baseball games on the radio. People who provide radio commentary are called play-by-play people. They narrate the game. This principle works in all organizations. I often hear leaders say, “We wait till we have an answer before communicating.” Yet people want to know the play-by-play, from when something was ordered to what progress is being made.
People feel good when they feel heard and know that action has been taken. Do not always wait till the definitive answer or action is completed to send an update. There will be many wins along the way.
Maximize available resources. As I wrote above, two years ago, due to the increase in stress and trauma employees were facing, we created tools to increase the use of resources. Most organizations have insurance coverage, employee assistance programs (EAPs), and so forth. The issue is not a lack of resources; it is the exceptionally low use of such resources. We created a video and a measurement method for assessing levels of well-being, stress, and trauma. We joined forces with TriHealth of Cincinnati and created a free well-being toolkit. We also created a 40-page book on well-being. Please visit our Learning Library to access these tools.
Keep resources like these in front of people. They feel better knowing the organization gets it and is bringing solutions. One does not have to provide burnout statistics. People are living it. I have used therapy over the years. I am afraid of certain issues. I do not need a therapist to educate me on fear. I want help figuring out the triggers and ways to address them.
Finally, don’t let perfection get in the way of better. Yes, we would love the perfect solution. This may not always exist, or if it does, we will not find it right away. Until we can achieve perfection, let’s keep working on making things better.
Thank you, as always, for reading.