Problem-Solving Success Tip: Look For Sponsors And Solution Owners

Look for sponsors and solution owners rather than problem owners.

Everyone participating in the situation owns the problem, like it or not-and nobody likes it. However, if one person is designated as the problem owner, that gives everyone else involved implicit permission to step away and essentially pretend that they don't have an ownership role in the problem. In other words, appointing a problem owner gets in the way of solving a problem.

A much better term for what is usually expected of the "problem owner" is "sponsor." A sponsor is the person who champions the problem-solving project by assuring awareness of the importance of the project, allocating resources, removing obstacles, etc. The words are important. Having a sponsor gets support for the problem-solving project without removing (or appearing to remove) responsibility for solving it.

Another difficulty with the term "problem owner" is that it has a blame connotation. A typical corollary to discussing who owns the problem is discussing whose fault it is. This is totally counterproductive to solving the problem. People get angry, and these discussions often deteriorate into finger-pointing rather than focusing on the root causes of the problem and what can be done to address them. "Solution owners" are people who are in a position to do something constructive about eliminating root causes of the problem. Helping with a solution is much more fun than being blamed for a problem, so you're more likely to get the response you need.

The terms you use are important. Avoid the not-my-problem trap by getting sponsors. Avoid the finger-pointing trap by finding solution owners.

Copyright 2005. Jeanne Sawyer. All Rights Reserved.

Jeanne Sawyer is an author, consultant, trainer and coach who helps her clients solve expensive, chronic problems, such as those that cause operational disruptions and cause customers to take their business elsewhere. These tips are excerpted from her book, When Stuff Happens: A Practical Guide to Solving Problems Permanently. Find out about it, and get more free information on problem-solving at her web site:

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