Saturday, February 17, 2007

Another Stupid Cliche - The Ninja Rants Again

It always happens, in every job. Some well-meaning managerial type has a chat with you about dealing with external issues, and that phrase comes up:

"You have to own the problem."

This always happens when the discussion is about someone outside your area has a problem and they want your help. They can't be bothered to provide all the necessary info, even if they are well-aware of what is needed, and they can't be bothered to follow-up on the issue, so you have to "own the problem" and spoon-feed them the answers, and god help you if you don't.

I always wonder why I am the one who has to "own the problem", and not the person who brings the problem to me? And why I am expected to be able to solve the problem against all odds without any increase in my authority, budget, or rank? It's particularly galling when you discover that the problem does not lie in your area of expertise, but are expected to pursue the problem to the next expert, instead of informing the one who came ot you, and letting them carry it to the next expert. Why aren't they "owning the problem"?

One of my theories about this is that managers don't want to appear as if their staff cannot solve problems, so they expect their staff to be the ones to "solve" the problem by carrying it to the end. It garners much praise from the upper managers, because they don't have to actually manage the problem. It might be an effect of continual delegation - the upper managers might rightly delegate a problem to an underling, but that underling still has enough authority to encompass the entire solution. This rule falls apart when you reach the lower levels of management, because the solution may not fall under the authority of that delegate, and that causes difficulties - the delegate now cannot command obedience to get the answer. And so the lowest level of management follows the trend, and expects the contributor level to magically influence others at their own or higher levels to help solve a problem that they have less then immediate data about.

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