How To Get Solutions From Employees That Are Better Than Yours

By Guest Contributor Sabrina Schleicher, PhD, PCC, BCC

Cool Invention

No More Distractions

Does it ever feel like you could get more done, if only you had fewer interruptions from employees asking you, “How do I do this?” Do you find yourself muttering under your breath, “Why can’t they just figure things out on their own?” It’s easy to get frustrated and impatient with employees who repeatedly come to you with “How should I do. . .  ?” questions.

Because the business owner tends to be the one who knows how to do everything in the business, it’s tempting for employees to come to you with questions before trying to figure things out on their own. In the interest of “saving time,” it’s tempting for you to answer their questions and keep moving.


Don’t Be The Problem Solver

However, doing this repeatedly creates a much bigger problem. . .you become the bottleneck in your business. When you’re the bottleneck, you can’t get around to doing the work on your business that you need to be doing to grow it and add value.

Plus, when every decision must be filtered through you, how can you possibly be away from your business? If your phone rings repeatedly when you’re at home, pay attention. This is a red flag that you’re building a business that depends on you being the Chief Problem Solver. For your business to have value, it’s critical you create your business so that it is not dependent upon your involvement in day-to-day operations, including problem-solving the day-to-day issues that arise.


We Teach People Through Our Actions

We teach people how to treat us. If you’re being bombarded with “How do you want me handle. . .?” questions, take into account your role in the problem. What have you taught employees about how to treat you? Have you taught them that you will answer their every question? Have you taught them that if they don’t do it right (i.e., your way), you get upset? If so, it’s time to be more intentional about the expectations you’re creating for employees.

If you truly want employees to think for themselves and come up with solutions that might even be better than the solutions you would come up with (yes, that really can happen!), create the “3 Before Me” expectation.


The 3 Before Me Expectation

3 Before Me means that before someone comes to you with a question, they are expected to try three ways to find the solution. An employee might look up directions, tinker with the problem themselves, or ask a co-worker.

To effectively implement the 3 Before Me expectation:

1. Hire employees who share your Immutable Laws (don’t skip this critical step!)
2. Make sure each employee is trained in the basics of their position.
3. Share the 3 Before Me expectation with your employees.

Now, I know you might be thinking, “But, Sabrina, what if they screw up?”  Relax and keep your eye on the prize—freedom! If your ultimate goal is freedom (ie., to build a business that has value and can run without you, so you can take a long vacation, sell your business, start another business or do whatever your heart desires), this is the way to go. If your goal is to be tied to your business the rest of your life and die behind the cash register serving yet another customer, then yes, just answer employees’ every question and keep moving.

Keep in mind, you know what you know because you learned from the mistakes you made along the way. Mistakes are learning opportunities. Leverage these! Ask the employee, “How will you fix this?” or “What ideas do you have for making it better?”

Be prepared. As you are establishing the 3 Before Me expectation, employees are still going to come to you with questions. Here are 2 powerful questions to keep handy to reinforce the 3 Before Me expectation:

What have you tried so far?

What ideas do you have?


Stick With It

It takes fortitude to stick with this and not just give in to answering employees’ questions in the interest of “saving time.” So, I want to give a big shout out to those of you who are intentionally creating an expectation that employees think for themselves! Know that you are the rare few who are working “right.”

There are ways of running a small business effectively—that work every time, in every business. Take the time to learn how to “work right” and you won’t regret it!


Sabrina Schleicher, Strategist at Provendus Group    Dr. Sabrina Schleicher, PCC, BCC specializes in coaching overworked business owners to streamline their business to maximize profit and free up time.

Sabrina is a Provendus Business Strategist and President of Tap the Potential LLC. She can be reached at


12 thoughts on “How To Get Solutions From Employees That Are Better Than Yours”

    1. Hey Linda, I am curious…what helped you make that change from doing to teaching? This is something that is a real struggle for a lot of us. Any insights you can offer from your experience that might help others in making this shift?

  1. I love this post! We are just now beginning to think about hiring employees in our small business and this article really helps us keep things in perspective while eliminating our fear of hiring. Thanks!

  2. Great thoughts, Sabrina! We should remember this from rearing children to be independent beings. Appreciate the reminder.

  3. Bill Cosby was once asked how he connected with kids so well. He said “just treat them like they are all intelligent. They will let you know if they aren’t”. Thanks for your good advice, Sabrina.

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