Getting Ahead

Use These 4 Steps to Tell Your Manager How You Solved a Problem

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Sometimes you need to go to your manager to get help solving a problem at work. And that's totally fine—your boss is there to help you, and working together to get out of a tricky situation will help you know how to tackle it down the line.

But sometimes, you're able to solve a problem all by yourself—and that's amazing! In that case, your boss never even has to know there was an issue in the first place, right?

Wrong. Talking to your manager about what happened, even when you don't need him or her to weigh in, shows that you're able to handle increasingly challenging things on your own—which could help out in your next performance review or when your name comes up for a promotion.

Whether you chat in person or shoot over a quick email, take these four steps to make sure your boss walks away informed and impressed.

1. Start With Why You're Sharing It

You want to start by making it clear that the problem has already been handled—so your email's not inducing any unnecessary panic! Then, give a quick explanation of why you're taking the time to share it anyway. In order to avoid sounding like you're bragging, make it clear how this is for the benefit of your boss—so he or she has all the information in case someone asks about it or know how it can be solved in case it happens again.

Try something like:

“We had a little issue this week that I've already handled, but wanted to give you a quick rundown in case someone comes to you with questions about it."

What This Shows: That you don't hide from problems and that you're a team player who wants to make sure everyone's informed.

2. Give a Quick Rundown of the Situation

Next, you want to give context about what happened. You'll want to keep this short and make sure you're not pointing any fingers—after all, you don't want to sound like you're whining.

In a few sentences, explain what went wrong, who was involved, when it happened, and—if you have a sense—what the root cause of the problem was. For example, maybe a customer was angry because she didn't get a quick response on a service request, but after doing some digging you were able to figure out that the software you use wasn't properly notifying employees.

What This Shows: That you're able to unpack an issue and are interested in finding solutions that solve not only the symptom but also the root cause, helping the business avoid more problems down the line.

3. Explain What Worked—and What Didn't

Now you can dive into what you did to successfully solve it! You'll want to be detailed here—think of this as an instruction manual for if the issue ever arises again. Walk through the steps you took, the timeline of each one, what resources you used, who was looped in along the way, and the like. And, of course, you'll want to to explain the results you achieved!

If you tried out any solutions along the way that didn't work before landing on the winning answer, it's okay to mention them here briefly as well so that your boss or other employees can learn from your mistakes.

What This Shows: That you solved the problem in a timely manner, that you're not afraid to try things and adjust, and that you're good at explaining solutions to train others.

4. End With Plans for Moving Forward

Finally, end by explaining what you've learned from this experience and what you think you and your team should do to make sure it doesn't happen again. You may not have all the power here, but this could be a good place to suggest things like process updates, policy changes, or new tools that you think it might be good for your boss to implement.

What This Shows: That you learn from mistakes and issues and are excited to make suggestions to continue to make the business better.

Problem solving is a skill that will get you far in your professional life, so you don't want to shy away from showing it off! Follow these steps, and you'll garner a reputation for being a master of tackling a challenge.

Updated 1/15/2021