Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Problems and Solutions

Dr. Arthur D. Levinson, CEO of Genentech, is quoted in the Wall Street Journal today:

I have a philosophy -- I invite criticism. But don't ever come to me with a complaint without saying, here is what we might do to make it better. I am happy to hear Part A if I hear Part B.

I have tremendous respect for the man; he's built a successful business in an industry he describes as the "biggest money losing industry of call time". But I think that the philosophy he describes is one that will lead to trouble, and in any case is not my philosophy.

First off, let's distinguish between problems and complaints. A problem is a situation deemed potentially harmful. A complaint is a statement about dissatisfaction with a situation.

I contend that all leaders want to hear about problems in their business; complaints are one way a leader will hear about them. If a leader requires that a person bring a solution to any problem, that means team members will be working on solutions that individuals perceive as problems. The leader wants to be able to distinguish between real problems that are worthy of finding solutions, perceived problems that are not problems at all but perception and communication issues, and problems that are real but not worth working on. If you adopt a policy like Dr. Levinson's, you don't get to make that distinction. Moreover if it becomes part of your culture, it gets pushed down to the next level and now management in general doesn't get to understand and make that decision.

I certainly understand where Dr. Levinson is trying to go with this; it might be a necessary policy in a company where people don't step up to find solutions. Given what he says about Genentech, though, I find it hard to believe that is the case. I can see adopting the policy on an individual basis when you have an employee who wants to put monkeys on other's backs instead of solving problems; but as a general policy, I don't get it.

1 comment:

Craig said...

I agree.

It's a flippant comment that doesn't ontribute to open communications.

No doubt it's a red herring so he can keep his competitive advantages.