What Should I Do?

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.

A frustrated business owner from Florida called me the other day to vent about a recent incident that occurred at his company. You may not believe this one, but I assure you it is true.

During a normal day at work, the owner received an impromptu call from one of his Foremen explaining that the Foreman had inadvertently locked the truck keys in the cab of the locked vehicle. The conversation transpired accordingly.

Owner: Hello.
Foreman: Hi John. I just want you to know that I locked the keys inside the truck.
Owner: Okay.
Foreman: What should I do?
Owner: Call the Safety Coordinator to bring a spare set of keys to you.
Foreman: Who is the Safety Coordinator?
Owner: You do not know who the Safety Coordinator is?
Foreman: No.
Owner: Manuel is the Safety Coordinator.
Foreman: Really? Okay. Hmmm. I didn’t know that. Do you have Manuel’s cell phone number?
Owner: You do not have the Safety Coordinator’s cell phone number on your company cell phone?
Foreman: No. I never had to call him before.
Owner: Manuel’s cell phone number is (777) 555-1234.
Foreman: Are you going to call him for me?
Owner: No. I do not know where you are.
Foreman: Just tell him to meet me at the Jones job in Jacksonville.
Owner: No. You are the Foreman. You call him.
Foreman: What should I do if he does not answer my phone call?
Owner: Leave him a message, keep calling him, or call your Manager.
Foreman: What should I do until he calls me back?
Owner: Start working on the job with your crew.

We all know the aphorism that we are supposed to teach people how to fish. But apparently, some people do not even know what a fish is, where they are located, and what the fish is for. As I explained to the owner, in this case, he did not teach the Foreman how to fish. Unfortunately, the owner bought the pole, put bait on the hook, cast the line into the lake, showed the Foreman how to hold the pole, and finally told the Foreman when to wind the reel.

In my opinion, the owner should have solicited possible responses from the Foreman instead of offering solutions to the Foreman’s repetitive, helpless plea of “What should I do?” Turn it around on the Foreman and wait for him to offer some plan of action to each of his own problem issues. Lamentably, the Foreman still does not know how to fish.

While this instance may be an extreme example (Let’s certainly hope so, for the sake of continued civilization; though I would not wager on it), many companies implicitly promote decision-making dependence, rewarding passivity instead of problem-solving. By way of contrast, owners must begin to pose specific, applied problems (e.g., recruitment, emergencies, customer complaints, field OSHA audits, computer issues, equipment problems) to their employees as training scenarios to initiate basic problem resolution skills.

If we don’t or won’t, we will only get more of the same. Which is what got us to this position in the first place.

So, ask yourself, to improve this part of your company culture: “What should I do?”

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.