Want to advance faster in your career? Be the problem solver.

Coftea , 4 Comments

My recent encounters in my workplace had a recurrent theme, that problem solvers advance faster in their careers. Here are the 3 stories.

Story 1

2 new colleagues, A and B joined my company recently and they were assigned to a project. A seems inquisitive as he asks many questions, while B looks thoughtful and usually reserves his comments. As they are sitting close to me, many of their conversations goes like this.
A: “Look at this, it is giving me error.”
B: “Let’s backtrack, what were you doing before the error came out?”
A: “I was doing the testing and realised the first one will pass but not the second. So I changed my method and the problem stays the same..”
Silence while B looks at A’s computer screen.
B: “Why not you try this way?”
A: “Ah.. Got it.”
A is a manager and B is a solution architect. While both positions are of the same job grade, B is about 10 years younger than A.
Be like B.

Story 2

C has been with the organisation for close to 10 years and knows many processes that newcomers don’t. It is common for D to drop by and ask C for advice.
D: “Hey, I’m not sure if I understand this complaint.”
C: “People are doing it this way because the system is built this way and it has been like this for many years. Previous attempts to improve it have failed.”
D: “Then how are we handling it currently?”
C: “No choice but to do it manually whenever there is a request.”
D: “Hmm.. These manual ways are time consuming and we can’t respond fast. Let's discuss with the team to see if automation is possible.. At the same time, why not we meet up with the users to see if they have any suggestions.”
The experience C has is invaluable and he is really helpful when people like me needs more information on how certain things work. But C is under D, who is a manager that has been with the organisation for just 2 years.
Be like D.

Story 3

E and F are in a meeting discussing project status and updates with a vendor.
Vendor: “We have passed that milestone for some time and we are being chased by our finance to submit invoice. Would we have your permission to do that?”
E: “There are still quite a number of outstanding issues and we are uncomfortable in making payment.”
Vendor: “Yes we understand, but we have put in a lot of effort for the past weeks and many things have been resolved.”
E: “Yes, but the outstanding items have been there for quite awhile and we need to close them.”
Vendor: “We are really committed to fix the rest of the issues and rest assured that we are working in our full capacity to do that.”
E: “We should close all issues before making payment.”
An awkward situation arise as there is a standstill...
F: “Let us discuss within ourselves and get back to you.”
Vendor leaves.
F: “I think we should be clear on the things the vendor need to check off before we make payment. Let’s make a list of the top priority issues and we can move ahead.”
A list was conveyed to the vendor, things moved forward and no relations was harmed.
E and F are about the same age, but E is a manager while F is a department head.
Be like F.

Problem solving isn’t easy. It requires understanding of the problem, consideration of the bigger picture and weighing various options to arrive at a solution. So the next time you want to report a problem, it helps to think critically on how you would solve it yourself. Good luck in getting it to fruition!

Photo Credits

Cover picture, Fortune by Tomasz Stasiuk


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  1. Hello jes,

    Brilliant examples here. I know of colleagues who stick to the rule book and provide "our-hands-are-tied" answers to clients, but those outstanding peers will brainstorm creative solutions to get things done.

    No prize for guessing who gets a bigger increment at year end.

    1. Hi SS,
      Thanks! People who says their hands are tied, but here is our recommendation and the forward are always appreciated. Which is why they stand out and get the promotion :)

  2. Well said. If everyone thinks the same way, work will not be so tough. In reality, most people pushes work and problems around.

    1. Hi Sweet Retirement,
      I think different people have their own area of expertise. Some are better at finding problem some are better at finding solution. And yes, people who takes up problems and find solutions are less common sadly.

      Thanks for dropping by!