Pushing Problems Up

As most of you know, I do business coaching as well as personal coaching. I want to shift to talking about business coaching today. This blog is based on a session I recently did with a corporate client. The company does construction work and I visited a satellite office to meet with their staff and introduce them to Inquiry Management and Leadership concepts. I did an overview before meeting with everyone individually, and I want to share a section I led about one of the principles we covered in the Inquiry Management section.

Inquiry Management

  1. A technique and practices for the operation of an organization and hierarchical relationships that amplify the growth and success of the individual toward shared goals and objectives.
  2. A way of organizing relationships within an organization around mentoring relationships rather than the traditional authoritarian boss/employee model.
  3. A commitment to creating accountability that requires leaders to be the most open, committed, engaged, members of the organization, who see their role as growing and inspiring people

A key principle of Inquiry Management is what I call “pushing problems up.”

You can listen to the recorded version here, or scroll down to read the blog

Everyone argues with me about this at first. People say “That’s not the way it works. You don’t push problems up; you bring answers to your boss. You come with solutions. You think about it and then you handle it on your own.” But, it works.

When I first started working with this client, the CEO said: Every job has these problems that get buried in them. And, then they come out at the end and they cost us a quarter million dollars. We go from profitable to loss or break even. I just hate it when those things come up.

We’ve been working together for a while now, and we’ve made huge strides on this by building a culture of Inquiry Management that includes the principle of pushing problems up.

Because, IF you can push your problems up, you can get coaching on how to resolve it, you can solve the problem before it becomes a big problem, and the problem can be pushed up to the level at which it can be resolved.

For instance, let’s say I’m working on a building estimate. There is an engineer who doesn’t report to me but who I’m parallel to who I need information from in order to be able to do the estimate. I’m having trouble getting the data out of them. I keep asking them – “Can you get me the data?” I even use inquiry – “When could you get me the data?” And, they still aren’t doing it. They don’t answer to me so I’m powerless in the situation. And, if I keep trying to deal with it on my own, I may end up way behind, and then someone will be upset and frustrated with me.

But, if I go one step up to whoever I report to and say “I’m really having trouble finishing this estimate because I’m not getting what I need from engineering.” My boss may ask if I’ve tried this or that, but when I’ve shown I’ve gone thru the options, they’ll realize this is out of my hands and that they need to do something about it. And, if the engineer doesn’t report to them, they’ll have to have to raise it one more level up and talk to whoever they need to talk to so they can understand that it’s a priority to get you this information.

So, in this process, it gets pushed up to the level where it can be addressed. It might go all the way up; it might go all the way up to the President, or it might go all the way up to the CEO. Because, the problem may be highlighting that we need to hire more engineers, or we need another company to work with, or we need a budget change, or we need to delay the bid on this job.

The problems need to go up to the level where they happen, where they can be solved. And, if the problem goes all the way up then the solution doesn’t go just to you, the solution also gets distributed out to the whole organization.

So, we don’t want to be hesitant about pushing our problems up.

The difference is that if I’m struggling on a job and I’m getting farther and farther behind while I’m trying to handle it myself and then eventually it comes out that it’s a mess. That would be terrible and on me. But, if at the beginning, I just keep reporting up what is happening on the job and what I’m having trouble with, I can solve things before they’re bigger problems.

It also helps takes the pressure off: Let’s say I’m having trouble with the subcontractors and I report it to my boss, and my boss says they don’t know how to handle it either. Now, I’ve transferred the accountability from me to my boss. Because, if my boss can’t tell me how to handle it or fix it, it’s their problem. If they can tell me how to fix it, or can help me figure out how to fix it, it’s my problem. But as long as I can’t fix it (and this is the beauty of being in an organization with hierarchy) I can keep pushing my problems up until they teach me, show me how to solve it, or change the system itself.

Even with our personal struggles, we want to push problems up. It helps you build your skills and helps to get your mentor more invested in you.

For instance, if I report to you and you’re my mentor, and I say I’m having a hard time getting organized. You may have a solution for me to use to improve. So, if I push the problem up to you, it’s not that I’m bad. I am just showing you my weakness I want to fix. And, you’re my mentor, you’ve seen my weaknesses and you want to help me get better. And, as I bring you my problem, you become more invested in me. The more you help me, the more invested you become in me. You’ve put a lot in me, so you want to see me advance and you want to support me. That is part of management. We really have to use the people we report to as mentors and ask them to help us. We have to be willing to be vulnerable enough to share what we are really struggling with.


Click here for my eCourse where you will be taught the fundamentals of Inquiry Management and Inquiry Leadership, or email us at info@inquirymethod.com if you are interested in learning more about business coaching.