By Marty Schaffel
Over the years, many an employee would walk into my office declaring he has a problem that needs immediate attention. It may have been work related, industry related or personal in nature.
In every case, the person would ask me to provide a prompt solution so he could get back to work and do the right thing. And he assumed I would tell them the right thing to do. But in each and every case I refused to acquiesce to their requests!
One might ask, ‘Why not instruct them appropriately and swiftly return them to productivity?’ My answer to this is simple and I hope it makes sense as we move along.
When these situations arose, I instead requested of the employee to provide me three possible solutions to the problem. Not one or two — three. I then listened intently to each proposed solution. I was curious to hear if any of the three had great risk or peril. Unless one of the three proposed solutions in fact did pose great risk, I then instructed the employee to pick one and get going.
Why did I feel this process was imperative to building a successful company? Because had I supplied the solution and all went well, nothing would be learned by the employee from the process. And worse, had I provided the solution and things went poorly, the employee would have attributed it to my poor guidance regardless of how hard he worked for the process to succeed.
That methodology does not obligate the employees to own the success or failure of the situation. Or bust their butts to ensure success. Only when employees have ownership of the outcome of projects and initiatives can a company succeed.
Employees want to feel significant in their jobs and workplace. When an organization fails to foster this, that organization is highly unlikely to grow or succeed — or retain great people.
Last year, I was comparing thoughts about the above topic with a senior manager of a company that I thought had a great corporate culture. His name was Bill. I proudly told Bill about what I did regarding problem solving with employees — that only when I thought an employee might propose a very bad alternative would I steer the process at all. It warmed my heart when he told me he did the same thing!
He did do one thing differently. He pointed off in the distance to Dave, one of his top middle management subordinates, a guy who I thought was very good at what he did as a manager — maybe as good as I have met.
And as he pointed to Dave, Bill looked me straight in the eyes and said he doesn’t prevent his employees from failing. Bill said he allows them to pick any solution and own it, because only when we allow our people to fail will they be better able to succeed and learn.
I conceded he was the stronger manager between the two of us because he had the strength and conviction to do that. And I thanked him for letting me learn from him.
He was right. We learn nothing from success. We only learn from our mistakes and failures. And only after making thousands of mistakes did I find my own way to my own success.
Marty Schaffel is the founder of Audio Visual Innovations, Inc (which is now known as AVI-SPL since its merger with SPL. Schaffel founded AVI in 1979 and served as the CEO., later serving as managing chairman of AVI-SPL Inc. He began his career in management with a national retailer and later joined a large office products distributor. He has since built a successful business in the sale of audiovisual products and services to the corporate, education, military and government markets nationwide. Schaffel serves as executive chairman of AVI-SPL Inc. and a director of Prospect Smarter Inc., a Tampa-headquartered technology firm. Schaffel was awarded the Certified Technology Specialist (CTS) designation by the ICIA, and received an honorable mention in the International Association of Business Communications Excel Award, which recognizes excellence in communication leadership (1997). He holds B.S. in Business Administration from University of Florida and B.S. in Public Administration from University of Florida.