How to Tell Your Manager You Solved a Problem

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Problem-solving is an essential workplace skill. Even if you try your best, sometimes things go wrong. It’s often nobody’s fault, but you still need to solve that problem and let your manager know….

Sometimes you will need to turn to your manager for advice and help in solving a problem. If you’re not sure of the best way forward or have several possible solutions to choose from, this can be the right thing to do. However, good managers also like their employees to be somewhat self-sufficient and able to solve problems without constant input.

But did you know that when you solve a problem by yourself, it can still be a good idea to let your boss know about it? Why? Here are a couple of reasons:

  1. Transparency. Your boss will trust you more if they know you can be open and honest with them about problems you’ve encountered.
  2. Showing that you can solve problems or handle challenging situations will impress your boss, helping you out when it comes to performance reviews, raises, or even promotions.

But you need to do it in the right way. Here are my four top tips for sharing with your manager that you encountered a problem and have successfully solved it.

1. Start by saying that it’s been handled

If you open an email or conversation by talking about what went wrong, your manager will immediately start worrying or going into damage control mode. Therefore, open by emphasising that the problem has been handled.

You should also give a clear reason for sharing it. Otherwise, it might come across as simply bragging for no other reason – which is not your goal! Instead, explain that you’re sharing so that they have the full context in case the problem comes up again or anyone has further questions about it.

While your manager doesn’t usually need to be consulted on every little decision you’ve made, they’ll appreciate being informed.

2. Keep it brief

No-one, especially not a busy manager, wants to read a giant wall of text or sit through a 30-minute monologue about a problem you solved. Therefore, keep it short and succinct. Give a brief rundown of what happened, including only the necessary detail.

If in doubt, cover these basic points:

  • What happened
  • Who was involved
  • Why it happened, if you can readily identify this
  • What you did to solve the problem

Using this formula, you should be able to get all the pertinent information across in a few sentences or even less.

3. Focus on solutions

When you let your manager know you solved a problem, the impression you want them to take away is that you’re proactive and solutions-focused. Therefore, make sure that your communication centres the steps you took to solve the problem and the positive end result you achieved.

If it’s relevant, you should also mention any solutions you tried that didn’t have the desired effect.

The key here is to emphasise not what went wrong, but how you fixed it. You can’t prevent problems and mistakes from occasionally happening at work, but you can control how you respond to them.

4. End with next steps, if any

Sometimes, solving a problem doesn’t end with the immediate damage-control you need to do. It might result in further work to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Therefore, if there are any additional steps you’ve taken or plan to take, make sure you outline these as well.

This demonstrates to your manager that you’re forward-thinking and capable of extrapolating from a single problem, putting measures in place to reduce the chances of it happening again.

Sometimes, a problem really is a fluke occurrence. Often, however, you’ll find there are solutions you can implement to prevent a repeat. This might be adding an extra control step to an existing process, removing a common barrier, or simply giving the team a heads-up that this is a thing that can happen.

Here’s an example…

I wanted to end by giving you an idea of how this can look. So here’s an example of an email you might use to tell your manager you solved a problem with a customer’s order. Feel free to adapt it and use it as a template if you like!

Hi Jane,I just wanted to let you know about a small issue we had with a customer this morning. Mrs Smith was annoyed because she hadn’t received her order which was placed on Tuesday afternoon. 

I did some digging and noticed that there was a brief system glitch around that time, which led to her order not getting through to the warehouse team. I’ve sent the item out for next day delivery and I don’t think any other customers were impacted, but I just wanted you to know in case we receive any more complaints. 

Thanks, 

[Name] 

Problem-solving is a vital skill

If you ask several managers what skills and attributes they value most highly in an employee, the ability to solve problems is likely to rank highly on many lists. That’s because managers like to hire people they can trust to do the job without needing their hands holding at every stage.

So next time a problem arises, try to solve it yourself before you seek support from your manager. You might surprise yourself!

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