How to Hire Problem Solvers

What if you hired solution-oriented people to begin with? What kind of difference could that make to your company’s bottom-line — and your sanity?

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How to Hire Problem Solvers
Need more problem solvers in your workplace?

How to make your team into problem solvers:

  • Encourage your staff to be proactive and come up with their own answers
  • Don't hire people just because they'll tell you what you want to hear
  • Ask candidates how they've solved problems in the past

We’ve all been there. You cringe when you see that employee who seems to be really good at identifying problems heading your way. If only that person would start thinking about making suggestions about how to correct the issue and be a problem solver instead, you’d be thrilled.

Sure, you can coach your existing team members about the benefits of being a problem solver. But what if you hired solution-oriented people, to begin with? What kind of difference could that make to your company’s bottom-line — and your sanity?

You want to hire people who don’t just identify problems, but offer solutions as well.

Let’s talk about ways to change your approach to hiring people. This way, you will begin to bring on people who will solve problems and be engaged instead of just talking about the things that aren’t working.

Why have you failed to hire problem solvers?

As we begin to discuss what will work best for hiring problem solvers, we should acknowledge that we’re doing just that — solving a problem.

“Solving a problem simply means representing it so as to make the solution transparent.” – Herb Simon

So, let’s take the first step.

Define the problem at hand

The quick answer to defining the problem is that people bring you issues, but not solutions.

If that’s really the problem, we can move on. But what if the problem is a little more complex?

Is it possible that when someone offers a potential solution, they get shot down without any encouragement as to which part of the solution might be viable? This can be demoralizing, and most won’t open themselves up to being the target in a shooting range very often.

Looking in the mirror first

What if the problem behind the problem is a lack of education about what can and can’t be done to effectively move forward? You know this information off the top of your head. But what if you shared it with the person who is trying to help the company be successful?

Don’t hire people just because they will do what you want to hear all the time.

Believe it or not, most managers and business owners say they want to hire people who can be problem solvers. When it comes down to it, though, when they’re brutally honest, these managers find that they actually just want someone who will tell them what they want to hear.

Avoid being this type of person. Be willing to take the time to understand what is being offered both as the challenge and the potential solution. Frequently, part of the suggestion that has been brought forward will work, and it just requires some brainstorming and tweaking.

Identify multiple potential fixes

There isn’t only one answer to your difficulty as with most things in life. You have a team member who has been bold enough to identify an issue.

One way to hire problem solvers is to help your existing staff learn to be proactive and create answers. Take time out of your day to have a discussion with this person. Ask questions such as:

  • “That’s a great observation. How did it come to your attention?” — this can often be the first step toward finding a great solution.
  • “Who and/or what is the issue impacting?” — this can help identify who would be beneficial in helping find a solution.
  • “What do you suggest we do about it?” — when your team member gives you a blank stare, let the silence linger. They will begin to fill it. The chances are they have a recommendation and don’t even realize it or are afraid to voice it. Then encourage any part of that answer you can. Even if it’s just that they want to make things better.
  • “Let’s (or with whoever is appropriate) sit down on X day at Y time so you can have some time to gather some more data and offer a couple more options.” — whether you feel it or not, this demonstrates that you have confidence in your staff to make things work well.

After the scheduled meeting, determine what role the employee will have in implementing the resolution.

If we allow more people to solve problems without permission, and if we tolerate (and don’t vilify) their mistakes, then we enable a much larger set of problems to be addressed. When a random problem pops up in this scenario, it causes no panic because the threat of failure has been defanged.” – Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace

Now that you’ve started working on the team you already have, let’s talk about effectively recruiting and interviewing someone who will be a problem solver.

What’s your biggest 2022 HR challenge that you’d like to resolve

Answer to see the results

Soft skills to look for in your new candidates

As you work to fill vacancies, think about the skills you want candidates to possess. Active solution finders tend to:

  • See the opportunity in a situation instead of only seeing a problem.
  • Be ok with making a mistake. They see it as a chance to learn and recognize that there isn’t really anything such as perfection.
  • Successfully combine theory and practicality. Being able to discern the difference between book learning and actual application is a valuable skill.
  • Look at situations from multiple angles so they can find the most viable answer.
  • Not assume they understand the entire situation. They ask insightful clarification questions.
  • Be willing to ask others for their opinions recognizing that others’ expertise is valuable and they can’t possibly know everything.

A candidate’s mindset is just as crucial to problem-solving as their method. So being able to get to that through your interview questions will go a long way toward hiring the best fit for your company.

Targeted approach to help you identify problem solvers

It’s true that some people just interview well. They have all the right answers for the general questions that are typically asked. So, maybe it’s time to ask some questions that aren’t as easy to anticipate. Questions that get to the core of what you need the candidate to bring to the table.

Asking questions can help you get what you need to from candidates.

What if you asked them questions about problems they’ve had to deal with?

It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually. When we desire to encourage the growth of the human spirit, we challenge and encourage the human capacity to solve problems, just as in school, we deliberately set problems for our children to solve. It is through the pain of confronting and resolving problems that we learn.” – M. Scott Peck

Targeted questions can be challenging to develop because you don’t want to be leading in your delivery, so you get a specific answer. However, once you have the right set of questions, you can ask each candidate the same question and measure their responses on somewhat of a level playing field.

Sample interview questions you could consider using

Here are a few examples of targeted, situational questions you could include as part of the interview process:

  • Tell me about a time you saw a challenge and suggested a viable solution. What happened?
  • Have you ever challenged the status quo at work? Tell me about it. Then what happened?
  • Tell me what you would do if you worked here and (create a hypothetical scenario that needs to be solved at your company)? Why would you take that approach?

These questions will give you insight into specific scenarios. They will also tell you more about the candidate’s problem-solving mindset.

Bringing up the next generation of problem solvers

Hiring problem solvers and the right people to work alongside your existing team can be challenging. However, if you are willing to invest the time and effort into your staff, you will find that your company will thrive. You will have a group of people who feel they have a stake in the company’s success.

Giving them the chance to solve problems and experience the pride of that piece of ownership is something you can’t really quantify.

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