When I first became a manager, I believed that one of the main reasons I was promoted was because of my problem-solving ability. I believed solving my team’s problems was my responsibility. I also believed it was an ideal way to provide the kind of support that would free them up to be more productive. Since I was managing a sales team, I believed I was freeing them up to sell more homes, which was good for everybody. And I believed that solving my team’s problems was a good time management strategy, not just for them but also for me. I felt I could solve the problem faster than I could teach them to solve it, and I would be more likely to solve it correctly. I was wrong on every count.
Over time (too much time, looking back) I learned that it would be better for everyone if I took the time to teach them how to become more self-sufficient, especially in handling problems with customers. Since handling customer problems was a skill I had enjoyed developing, I was excited to help them get to the level I had reached. In the beginning it did take some time to build their confidence as well as their skill, but over the course of a year I only spent one-tenth as much time making them self-sufficient as I had spent the year before solving their problems.
As their confidence in managing customers grew, so did their confidence in selling to them. They did a better job of setting expectations, and they maintained better relationships with their customers because they didn’t lose credibility by deflecting problems to someone else. They were more confident, efficient and effective because they were more empowered. And they gave me ten to fifteen extra hours per week to lead and support them more productively.
In coaching them to self-sufficiency, I followed 6 steps:
- Here’s what to do. (The directive.)
- Here’s how to do it. (The instruction.)
- Here’s why to do it that way. (Understanding and belief.)
- Will you do it? When? (The commitment, including a timetable.)
- “Call me after you’ve done it and tell me how it went.” (The de-brief.)
- “Can you do this, and anything similar, by yourself from now on?” (Self-sufficiency.)
One more element in the self-sufficiency formula is this: “Whenever you bring me a problem, bring me your proposal for a solution.”