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Diagnosing the Problem (without solving it)

In yesterday's HR Swap, we focused on how to deal with the high volume and wide variety of problems people bring to HR without taking on each problem as your own.

Problems people were facing ranged widely, from hiring managers who wanted to hire in states where the company doesn't operate to managers wanting to fire people they hadn't documented as underperforming. The complexity and uniqueness of the kinds of issues HR professionals face would be funny if they didn't actually have to deal with them in real life. (One participant talked about an employee who complained that their coworker was picking his nose, and another told a story about the time the CEO broke down in front of her about a divorce. No matter the urgency, it's never easy!)

The first step, everyone agreed, was to try to understand what was going on. Without knowing that, it's hard to move forward. Getting a big-picture view that combines what you know about the organization, the person or people coming to you, and the pieces of the puzzle that they're bringing is key.

One L&D participant said that whenever someone comes to her for training, her first question back is always "is this something training will fix?" If people aren't entering their goals into the portal when they're supposed to, is that because they don't know how to, or because there aren't any consequences if they don't? Understanding employees' motivational context and any accountability practices in the organization is critical. (Because generally, people will look to get away with what they can get away with.)

Once you understand the situation, then people went through a variety of different questions, including:

  • Is this the first time I'm hearing of this?

  • Is this the whole issue?

  • Do I have enough information or perspectives?

  • Who else can handle this/needs to be involved?

  • How long with the solution take?

  • Is this a symptom of something larger?

The goal of these questions was to get to step 2, which is identifying the problem. Is the problem, for example, that a hiring manager is too picky? Or is it that the TA associate doesn't understand the job requirements well enough? Or both? Participants talked about the value of having conversations with the people who brought the problem to you in the first place to see a) what they think the problem is, and b) what they think the solution should be. (That's been enough for a couple of participants to get the problem off their plates and back onto the people who brought them in the first place.)

One participant talked about the value of the 5 Whys when trying to understand the root cause of a problem.

Once you know the problem, then it's time to look at what the corresponding course of action is and that's the moment to really look around and make sure you're the ONLY ONE who can possibly handle it. Even when you're the only HR person at the company, it may not mean that you're the only one to solve the issue. Many participants mentioned the pressure, confidentiality issues, and expectations that others have of your role that contribute to feeling like they have to be the one to solve the problem. But interrupting that mindset can help you be more strategic about what you solve and whether you're the one to solve it at all.

Like what you're seeing? Participate in the next HR Swap on Thursday, June 8 at 3pm ET! Register here.

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