Is Your Workforce Prepared To Think And Solve?

American jobs are moving away from “do and repeat” work to “think and solve.” The educate-to-delegate approach emphasizes asking the right questions, learning how to listen through a customer’s emotions, and making the right decisions given the facts and context.


But this approach won’t work in a culture where the manager has to make every decision — or know every possible outcome. The employees have to know how to do things the right way.

In this transition to a think-and-solve economy, it’s the manager who suffers most. There isn’t enough time, attention, or information for them to make every decision. So, to be able to get on with their own work, managers should provide the ingredients before their employees’ work begins. That way, every employee is competent in dealing with the unpredictable in real-time situations where they might normally call the manager for help. This self-confidence through learning will be your organization’s special sauce.

To change the relationship between manager and employee, we must first start by changing the words we use to describe the relationship. What does this redefinition look like? A prime example is the role of a Traditional Manager vs. a Cognitive Economy Manager.

Traditional Managers

  • Supervise: They see themselves responsible for the details of each employee’s performance.
  • Allocate:  They dispense resources, praise, and responsibilities based on how closely the employee’s performance aligns with how they would do the task themselves.
  • Enforce: They hold employees to standards of process and performance.

Cognitive Economy Managers

  • Coach: They see themselves as teachers, educating employees on the business and how their job fits into the business’ goals and performance.
  • Delegate: They distribute roles, resources, and responsibilities based on alignment of skills, interest and business needs.
  • Counsel: They view mistakes and stressful situations as learning events for everyone, as are successes.

The difference in these approaches requires a focus on solving common problems as well as knowing what tools and resources associates need to solve the unexpected.

Mark Daniel Suwyn is a continuous improvement expert and consultant for Energage, a Philadelphia-based research and consulting firm that surveyed more than 2 million employees at more than 7,000 organizations in 2019. Energage is The Washington Post’s research partner for Top Workplaces.

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