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May 5, 2014 at 1:00 AM

Don’t bring problems to your manager — bring solutions

In today’s workplace, if you want to stand out as a valued employee, don’t bring problems to your manager — bring solutions. There are too many problems for managers to solve all by themselves; that’s why you were hired. So don’t be part of the problem. Become a solution-generating employee, and you’ll increase your value to your manager and to the company.

Jim Rohn, an American author, once said, “To solve any problem, there are three questions to ask yourself: First, what could I do? Second, what could I read? And third, who could I ask?” These are excellent questions to consider. But for more complex problems, I like to follow what’s known as the rational decision-making model.

This model has been around for years in the scientific community and within the study of organizational behavior. It’s the process I’ve used throughout my career, because it follows a logical step-by-step approach that makes it easy for me to explain how I reached my recommendation to solve a problem.

Step 1: Identify the problem. Explain the situation. Keep asking “Why?” to dive deeper into the problem and uncover the root cause.

Step 2: Determine the solution criteria. Define the criteria the solution must satisfy, such as staying within a certain budget or achieving a minimum outcome level.

Step 3: Generate potential solutions. Brainstorm all possible solutions. Depending on the complexity of the problem, you may want to include subject matter experts in this step.

Step 4: Analyze each solution. Analyze the solutions against the criteria. Which one makes the most sense based on your constraints, such as budget, resources and time? I sometimes create a table that lists each solution and each criterion with check marks or brief comments to rate each solution against all the various criteria.

Step 5: Select the best solution. Based on your analysis, choose the best solution. Make sure you are able to explain why it makes the most sense.

Step 6: Determine the implementation plan. Determine how the recommended solution could best be implemented and progress tracked. This is the “who, when, where and how” description. If possible, include budget and time estimates.

Step 7: Document the information. Include the information from steps 1–6 in a one-page document (absolutely no more than two pages). Keeping your document short will force you to carefully think through the situation and get right to the point.

Step 8: Meet with your boss. Most managers are short on time, so putting your information into a concise document makes it easier when you meet to discuss your ideas.  

Going through these steps isn’t always easy, but by following this model, the process will become ingrained in your mind. Over time, you’ll be able to quickly and easily think through these steps.

Next time, don’t bring a problem to your manager — use the rational decision-making model and bring the solution instead. Then watch your value as an employee increase.

Lisa Quast is the founder of Career Woman, Inc., and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at

More in Work Life Blog | Topics: career advancement, communication, promotions, relationships, skills

Blog contributors

Randy Woods Writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Former contributors

Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.


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