Sell the problem, not the solution

nighthawk309 —  June 27, 2013 — 2 Comments

buy-sell-image1If you’ve got a problem on your hands that you’re eager to solve, you’ve got to first sell the problem before you pitch the solution. Karen Cross, Director of Leadership Services at the Michigan Association of Schools, recently spoke at a Michigan Library Association workshop and presented this as an effective way to manage transition.

Before you run to your team to tell them how much better work will be once this new policy or procedure is implemented, step back and first get them to see that there is truly a problem that needs to be addressed. Don’t start off by telling them how you’re going to fix something–instead let them see and understand what’s broken and truly needs fixing.

This approach can work with transitions large and small. When I started at my previous position as Head of Circulation, I wanted to update how materials were checked in by circulation staff. It was obvious to me that too many errors were being made when attempting to process the items at the front desk while providing assistance to patrons.

Rather than issuing a mandate to improve this process, I first started conversations with staff to talk with them in a way that they too could see the problem. This generated productive conversations about current procedures and how they were falling short. After everyone agreed to the problem and provided suggestions for change, I implemented a rotating schedule that got people away from the desk to focus on processing materials exclusively. This change resulted in a reduction of errors and improved the level of service provided to patrons.

You don’t need to give the same sales pitch to each person or department. Tailor the message and use different approaches so that everyone understand the problem in their own way.

Once you get everyone on board with the problem, you can go forth and present the solution. Selling the solution after everyone sees the same problem (even if from different angles) will create a solid foundation for an effective implementation.

And Tom Waits has a deal for you that you won’t be able to pass up.



Matt Church is the library director at the Berkley Public Library (Berkley, MI). He was previously associate director at the Baldwin Public Library (Birmingham, MI). He's all about libraries, Tom Waits, coffee, trekking and family adventures.

2 responses to Sell the problem, not the solution



    I would love, love, love to hear about how you made changes to your checking in process. We’re constantly frustrated with checked out items being reshelved, and it’s demoralizing to think that any one of us could have made the error. I’ll message you to pick your brain!


Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Getting others to join the adventure | mrs c in the library - September 22, 2013

    […] key teachers across the stages but I have more work to do here. Borrowing from Matt Church (“Sell the Problem not the Solution” at Library Lost and Found“), unless I can help my colleagues see that there is a problem with viewing information […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s