How to get employees to problem solve

Or rather, how to get them to stop asking stupid questions.

Let me first say that I have a pretty hands-off management style. I tell my staff that they are empowered to make decisions if it means solving a problem - particularly with customers and even if it means spending $20. Obviously, some employees are more receptive than others. HOWEVER, I probably get 3-5 of these types of questions per day:

“Patrick, the lights are off in the Party room, what should I do?”.

This is an absurd example, but you get the point. Obviously, the employee should flick the light switch to the ON position.

Another example, my KM was going to RD this morning but the pickup had 6" of snow in it. He texted me to ask if I knew where the shovel was. I replied no. So he texted me again explaining his apparent dilemma. I was so dumbfounded, I couldn’t even reply. Thankfully, he didn’t interrupt my morning and got a broom to sweep it out.

But this runs deep in my operation. I’ve discussed it problem solving with my employees. I explained to everyone that, before you call or text me, think what you would do if I were dead. But I just feel like I must have some leadership flaw because I get dumb questions all day and night no matter what I do.

Is this just the nature of the business or is there something else I can do to minimize the 1:00 a.m. “The monitor is not working on one of the terminals?” calls (really happened last week, I told him to push the on button).

I’m probably just ranting, but if you guys have some strategies based on experience, I’d love to hear them.

Next Door Pizza

hands-off management style
Thats part of the problem. Put your hands back on and provide some leadership, not management.

I concur. It appears that the personnel you have in place are lacing in leadership and confidence at this point. If your management lacks leadership initiative, then that is something you may want to consider fixing one way or another. Simply coaching periodically could be all that is needed in that realm.

Get back into the store and do active leadership and modeling desired behaviors and thought processes. There is a metaphor used by a mentor of mine when he talks to his sons about playing basketball. He encourages then to work hard . . . and they shut down and get timid when they get 3 fouls, then 4 is a complete shutdown of assertiveness and initiative. They always say they don’t want to foul out and fail to stay in the game. He ultimately told them he wants them to please foul out. go ahead and play normally until they are actually fouled out of the game a couple times. LESSON: Until you actually foul out, you don’t really know where the limit is. Once you know how far you can actually go, then you can make better decisions. Same with cooking, with most any facet of life. Maybe they need to be encouraged to “foul out” a little and make a few gradually increasing decisions with freedom from consequences so they can find the foul out point?

I went wayyy long getting there, but you get the point. Sounds like they either don’t want the responsibility (different problem) or fear the results of making a wrong decision.

What I see is many aspects of lack of initiative, problem solving and too much pandering by parents today.
They cannot think for themselves like previous generations. Is it the “nanny state” culture that has developed which has taken the seek and explore away from kids today?
They fear doing something new in case they do it wrong. Is this the case of high expectations that have risen from the “must win” mentality of today? Participation was once the norm now win is the benchmark. Is self confidence being eroded where they fear to tread instead of having a go?
Too many parents have taken on the “be a friend” with their children rather than being a parent. The parents are doing eveything for their kids in fera of “upsetting” their child by demanding they pull their weight and get their ar$es off the couch or away from the computer games.
The massive explosion of computer game participation drains the kids of reality and perseption of what is expected. They are tired from spending hours in front of the screens playing these games. I know for a fact that over 80% of my staff are “gamers” and they spend the majority of their time in front of the screen on games.
The kids today lack the basics of what we were bought with and unfortunately we have the results of a social society that has lost its way to good doers.


I think you’re expectations might be too high. Also, who hired these people? lol :mrgreen:

Look, kids have been taught to memorize the test answers, don’t question authority and are not taught how to solve problems. They are taught to be good, complacent worker bees. They’re subjected to so many rules in school and life now it’s staggering - it’s against the rules to bring an aspirin to school because you have a headache, no talking, wear your safety goggles while peeing, wear a helmet riding a bicycle, don’t assault your classmate by asking what country they came from, stand up, sit down, talk, shut up, do this, do that, can’t you read the sign?

If they were independent, problem-solving people, they wouldn’t be working for you at (insert small dollar amount) per hour. You might be stuck with them unless you can afford to hire people further up the competency ladder.

So I was a little brief on my first reply, and probably almost as brief on my second.

It kills me to hear that people who work for low wages are dumb, stupid, slow, incapable of even the simplest task without direct supervision. UNBELIEVABLE. Obviously, some of us have fallen for the mantra that having more money equals better, smarter, and brighter. BS. Having more money means just that, has more money. I’ll stop there and skip the history lesson.

You do not ‘manage’ a small group of people, you LEAD them. Successful leaders employ many different tactics depending on the skill or experience level of their subordinates. Your mother was (hopefully) a successful leader. Most of the staff I hire are self-motivated, educated young individuals. They’re earning money and learning to work with others while going to school. I still have to lead them. In doing so, I communicate my standards, work ethic, and expectations. I know this because I listen to their answers when I question them on different topics. I know that they understand the standards and expectations of performance, which does include exercising initiative in certain situations, while performing tasks to standard in others. In some situations, you may have to mentor them, in others you may coach them. Yet in others, you may lead them by having them follow you and your example.

The bottom line is that when successfully leading, you will have to communicate effectively and accomplish the objectives of the group within the criteria that was set. In your store, you’re setting those objectives and standards. You’re also leading a group of willing individuals, that includes yourself, to accomplish those objectives.

If they don’t have to think for themselves why should they bother.

My approach would be asking them the question.

(E)The lights are off what should I do? (U) Hmmm…what do you think you should do? (E) Turn them on? (U) See that is why I hired you…cuz you are able to figure stuff like this out.

Over time they will come to expect you reversing the question and eventually answer themselves without asking you.

When do you want to be called? I want to be called when the issue involves “blood, fire or a breakdown we can’t work around until morning.” Put your list next to your phone number with a note stating, “YOU are authorized to solve all other problems.”

If they still call, always answer their question with a question of your own. Some ideas presented in order of the way the conversation will usually flow:

“Does this involve blood, fire or a major breakdown?”
“What steps did you take to resolve the problem before you called me?”
“What ideas to you have for solving this problem?”
“What does the note next to my phone number say?” CLICK

The next day, no matter how Rube Goldberg their solution, don’t criticize them for solving the problem. Wash, lather, rinse, repeat.

Edit: Kris beat me to the same answer. I guess I should “preview” before submitting!

Several years ago we went on a family vacation and left an 18 year old girl in charge because, in our opinion, she was the most mature and responsible of our employees.
When we returned she told me of a problem that came up with a customer and how she resolved it. I don’t recall the issue, but I remember thinking that is not really how I would have done it. It must have shown on my face because she looked suddenly upset. In one of the few moments of clarity I have had since opening this place I asked if her the customer was happy and she said “yes” so I told her that although I would have handled it differently, the customer was happy, it did not cost me anything significant, and I did not have to fix anything when I got back so she obviously did a good job. I don’t think I ever even told her what I would have done. She was left in charge everytime we left after that until she outgrew us.
I think it is interesting that I can remember her reactions but not the initial problem.