Be a Problem Solver, Not a Problem Creator

Norb Slowikowski / March 2015

Put simply, you can make yourself indispensable by always being a problem-solver and not a problem-creator. In other words, you should do all you can to prevent and solve problems before obtaining the assistance of your supervisor. This will prove you can handle the all-important task of delegated authority.
Remember, your boss has enough to do without becoming involved in the minutiae of smaller problems that can arise on the job. It’s up to you to take responsibility for fixing problems by understanding and executing what I call the “Six Steps of the Problem-Solving Process.”
Step 1: Define the problem. Be specific and avoid generalities. Distinguish the problem from its symptoms by outlining cause and effect.
Step 2: Investigate for the underlying cause. Gather all necessary information about the problem and get to the root of why it occurred. In other words, forget about the outcome and focus on the “why” and the “how.”
Step 3: Develop a list of alternative solutions or courses of action that will solve the problem. Conduct a brainstorming session to list the pros and cons of each action.
Step 4: Identify your objective and what you’re trying to accomplish. Define the end result you want and figure out how to get there.
Step 5: Implement the solution. Go back to step #3 and select the alternative solutions that will meet your objective and solve the problem.
Step 6: Follow up, evaluate and adjust as needed. Don’t just walk away from the situation and assume everything is fine. Remember, problem-solving is an ongoing process.
Another vital step in positively influencing your image in the workplace is to create an image of yourself as a team player. In order to establish this image, you need to manage yourself effectively. Once you have proven that you can handle your business, people can trust that you’ll do what you say you will do. In short, it’s about establishing integrity. Here are some actions you can take to better manage yourself in the workplace to exemplify the traits of a willing partner:
Monitor your own behavior. Have a healthy sense of self-awareness so you know how your actions come off to other people in the workplace. Look at it from their perspective and think about how you may be perceived. Perception is reality.
Set goals for yourself via action plans. Let your boss know what these goals are and if there are other objectives your boss wants you to consider. Then, when you achieve these goals, you will have a “results-oriented” image that will be seen as an asset to the company in the eyes of your superiors.
Ask your supervisor to evaluate your performance on a periodic basis. Even if your company has a more formal performance appraisal system, it’s useful to pursue a more informal process of feedback. This will show that you’d like to know how your supervisor specifically views your performance. It will also give you a better sense of exactly what you need to improve upon. This kind of clarity will give you a sense of direction. Once you know the direction, you can move forward.
Create a sense of overall competence. This can be done with a series of seemingly small traits that cohere into a larger impression. Punctuality, grooming, volunteering and cleanliness all show how seriously you take your job and, therefore, how seriously others should take you. These traits are the prerequisites for getting to the next level. Like it or not, people often “judge a book by its cover,” so you may as well make the surface look good.
In sum, all of these factors are important to the process of being a real problem solver. Using the Six Steps of the Problem-Solving Process effectively will help you understand your role in the organization while allowing others to identify your signature strengths. If you can gain that sense of trust, you’re much more likely to influence workplace thinking and, in turn, put yourself in a position for advancement. When you commit to problem-solving, meeting deadlines and showing exemplary performance, you make yourself irreplaceable. There’s no better solution than that.

Norb Slowikowski is president of Slowikowski & Associates, Inc. in Darien, Ill.