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Action Item: Get Employees to Solve Your Challenges, While Giving Them a Sense of Purpose


An organizational headache that just won't go away.


Ask employees whom you would never think to ask, for solutions to your “unsolvable” problem.

This means ask servers, foremen, dental hygienists, managers from other departments, marketing coordinators, grounds workers, security, IT analyst...whoever you wouldn't normally think to ask.


(decide within 48 hours and execute within 10 days of reading this…or it will likely never happen).

1. Choose a group of employees (8-16 employees works best)
2. Choose a setting
3. Schedule them for 1-3 hours (two hours works best)
4. Meet
5. Describe your problem in detail
6. Sit back and fight the urge to join the discussion. Offer only brief answers to questions that are asked by the group

This will make them feel great. You'll get truly innovative ideas, and likely a solid and feasible solution in the process. 

YES, THE IDEA IS TO ACTUALLY GET YOUR PROBLEM SOLVED.  The positive impact on the employees is the added gift to both of you.


It's likely "coming right up!" if the actions above are completed.

Think about it. Randomly consider just eight people in your organization. With just those eight people, you have somewhere around 120 years of total work experience, and 35 years of experience at your company. These are very conservative estimates for some companies. 

That is over an entire century of problem solving, on the job experience in various roles and industries, learned resilience, and leadership experience (every job requires SOME leadership). 

Not to mention the added diversity of personality and productivity styles, all just with eight people in your organization.

There’s More Than One Way to Choose Employees:

1. Hat Lottery

Find employees who are up-and-coming stars or otherwise show great initiative. Randomly choose.

2. Extend the Opportunity to Disengaged Employees

This is the first step in saving (read: retaining and increasing performance) those who used to be your best employees but got lost along the way and pushed aside. They likely have thought, for a very long time, about solutions to the very problems you're facing.

Who used to show promise but was not nurtured? Who was hired for their great talent and then got caught up I putting out fires?

3. Simply Rotate Through Different Departments

This could be fruitful, especially if you enlist a team in turmoil and bring them together towards a common goal and even bring their team recognition.

4.  Admins and Office Support Staff

I know of a multimillion-dollar construction company that calls their admins and office support staff to the floor for an impromptu meeting when they have a problem (and I’m talking about a BIG problem) that has gone on for months that the project, purchasing, and engineering managers just can’t seem to solve. They have a marvelous track record of ingenious solutions from a WIDE variety of backgrounds get "we would have never thought of that" solutions.

5.  Have a Friendly “Solution” Competition

The initial goal is not for the “perfect” idea. Rather, the winner is the employee or team with the most ideas generated. THIS is how to brainstorm and actually allow innovative solutions to your toughest problems. 

These strict “open” parameters ensure that teams won’t get bogged down in the details, and the usual immediate naysayers will be silenced long enough for the “not even close to being feasible” idea to be bounced off of, and allow other members of the team to come up with a tangent idea that might just work!

6.  I know you have other ideas (that's the point, right?). Please add them as a comment.

Let’s Get These Legitimate Concerns Out of The Way:

Concern: We can’t take employees “off the floor” for 1-3 hours. Even if we could, the scheduling would be too hard.

How much is your problem costing you each day/month/year? For example, if it’s employee retention, it’s likely far over $100k/year. How much will three hours of the 8x employee labor cost?

Concern: Employees not involved will feel slighted.

a. If using a lottery, a lottery is random. Everyone has the same chance. 

b. If handpicked, those not chosen may see they are missing out on opportunity and recognition, and step up their game. 

c. Of course, we can’t please all the people all the time. 

The questions with the obvious answers:

“Will it elevate and motivate those we chose to help us problem solve?”
"Is it better than what we’ve been doing?” 
"Have we been missing out on the return on our salary investments?"
"Have we been missing out on the talent we worked so hard to recruit and hire”
"Will this help with employee retention by giving employees a sense of purpose?"
"Can those not chosen be engaged in another ways? Perhaps execution of the discovered solution?"

Concern: What if there are no viable solutions presented?

Perhaps not the likely outcome, but it surely is possible. If that is the actual result, how did the employees and organization benefit from the process? Better camaraderie? Greater sense of purpose? Tighter bonds? In-company networking? Boost of morale?

Concern: Won't I be giving up power?

 James Kouzes and Barry Posner will take this one. Authors of The Leadership Challenge (and over four decades of scientific leadership research) found that one of two vital leadership essentials that strengthen others is to enhance self-determination. Great leaders act on the paradox of power: You become more powerful when you give your own power away.

Concern: Trade Secrets

Fair concern. My guess is most organizational problems you choose for this action item won't concern trade secrets, but in any case: You could have them sign a confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement. This could either make them feel special or damage the trust relationship. You're the closest referee, feel free to make that call.

Concern: Political Inner Circle

Maybe, just maybe, if you've gone months, and in MANY cases DECADES without a feasible, sustainable solution that actually makes a difference on the books, could it finally be time to try something different and get rid of that headache?

Have more legitimate, sticky concerns? Add a comment and let's find more solutions.

One more thing. You need a name for these awesome problem-solving forces you've brought together. If you want, now you have the ability to give this a test drive. Get the employees together and let them come up with a name. In a low-stakes situation, this will:

1. Build some camaraderie for the group
2. Set a few social norms
3. Give them an understanding of personalities and group dynamics
4. Show them that in fact it is a safe environment to let their ideas flow

How long will this take? The solution you're looking for usually comes between 1-3 hours after the problem/solution discussion has started, but could take much longer. However long it takes, give them time.


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