Friday, May 19, 2017

Solve Problems at the Lowest Level Possible

Problem solving is a daily task of a community college president.  Rarely are the problems solved in just one day.  The complexity of leading a multi-layered, multimillion dollar organization is a given. The growing accountability movement adds a pressure of constant monitoring and accountability. Consequently, the need to resolve problems and challenges in an effective and efficient manner is vital.

As the president I often think of myself as the "first among equals".  Certainly, the president has the responsibility to ensure that the organization is effective and efficient.  To be successful one needs a team.  That team needs to be empowered to resolve issues at the lowest level possible.  Managers within an organization need to know that they are expected to recognize problems and resolve them. They need to know that they are empowered to make those decisions and that they will get the support of their supervisors when solving those problems.

I reinforce this expectation as often as possible.  For example, students frequently e-mail me or contact me when they have concerns at the end of the semester pertaining to their grades.  Unless they have affirmed for me that they have first worked with the faculty member and/or department chair, I don't get involved, but rather send them back to the department.  I always explain to the student that the issues are best handled at the department level and that for the quickest possible review they need to begin with the department chair or dean depending upon who they have first talked with before e-mailing me.

Student concerns and issues are not the only way to reinforce the expectation of resolution at the lowest level possible.  I expect that individuals who see a problem on campus to report the problem to the person who can resolve the problem. Managers and leaders at all levels of the organization need to have the tools necessary to do their jobs and meet expectations.  This includes information as well as tangible resources.  Often these individuals see problems that people at the executive level of the organization can not see or know about.

In addition to reinforcing the expectation of resolving problems at the lowest level possible, one needs to recognize individuals who do resolve problems.  Problem solving skills are crucial in the workplace.  Consequently, I believe it is important to assess a candidates problem solving skills when looking to hire for positions on campus.  Problem solving as a skill is transferable.  It is also a skill that we must instill in our students.