HR: The Problem Collaborators


April 7, 2009

I don’t know that I’m trying to start a controversy here, but during my career I have heard so many people in human resources say that they try to show they are valuable by being problem solvers. I don’t know if they just haven’t heard the old adage “if you teach a man to fish…..” but I have long held the view that the most effective HR professionals are those who help people solve their own problems, NOT THOSE THAT SOLVE IT FOR THEM.

Collaborating with managers and employees instead of trying to solve all their problems can be done by following a few easy steps.

 • Listen. I don’t mean sit there and pretend to listen while your head fills up with all the possible solutions to the person’s problem. I mean really listen. Ponder. Sit in silence for a bit then ask a question and LISTEN some more. It is almost impossible to be a good collaborator if you do not spend more of your time listening than you do talking. We tend to think that if there is even a moment of silence we should fill it. Not true. Just listen.

 • Ask the employee or manager what the problem really is. All too often, someone comes running to me with “Here’s my problem….what do I do?” I always try to question them to see what they are really asking. Often, what they perceive as the problem is not the real root cause of the situation. A classic example is an employee who comes to complain about their salary. While that is definitely an issue, typically the cause behind it is performance related. So, really dig down and find out what the root of the problem is so you can address that. If the root issue is corrected, the waves trickle down.

 • Ask the employee or manager what he/she thinks they should do. Often, if it’s a big enough issue for them to bring to you in HR, it’s something they have thought about quite a bit. If not, then they are just using you for a crutch. People play out various of scenarios in their heads long before they act- at least most do. Ask what they think the pros and cons of various approaches are. Then listen (again??- do you think I sound like your mother harping on this point??)

Talk, question, interact. Here’s your big moment. Now that you not only have a grasp of what the problem is and how the person in front of you thinks he/she should react, you can give some opinions. Obviously, you’ll use past experience to generate ideas. And, ideas often lead the discussion to more question, more ideas, etc.

Settle on the best outcome.

Define the course of action.  Set up a plan of steps to take to help reach the solution. 

Follow up. This is key in building the relationship. It’s not only showing you care about the outcome, but you’ll be showing that person that you want to continue collaborating with him/her in the future. They will likely share this good experience with others and will help you build your “fan base”, if you will.

So, that’s my 2 cents for the day. Oh, and these tips and tricks can work on dealing with spouses, significant others, and best of all……CHILDREN. I know because I use them on my 5 year old twins all the time.

More soon….


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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.




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