Diagnosing the Problems
Once you’ve identified your company’s problems, the next step is to determine their root causes. Though a fix may seem obvious, it will serve you better to focus on diagnosis than implementing—or even proposing—any solutions.
It does no good to address the symptoms of an IT department that is struggling to adapt to a constantly changing business environment, or the surface issues of poor customer satisfaction ratings.
Only by spending the time and energy to “go deep” will you be able to correctly determine what the true source of the problems keeping your company from reaching its full potential.
Here are some suggestions for how to accomplish this.
Focus on Root Causes Not Proximate Causes
An example of a proximate cause might be, “We missed our quarterly numbers because we didn’t properly market our new service. As a result, our customers didn’t know we have an online option for resolving issues.”
Where a root cause might be, “We missed our quarterly numbers because we don’t place enough emphasis on management processes because we still think like a small start-up. Because of this, we didn’t dedicate a project manager to shepherd the project and meet a series of deliverables. As a result, our customers…”
In this situation, had you considered the problem a matter of marketing and nothing more you would have missed the root cause and your company would suffer similar failures over and over until the root cause was addressed.
One of the challenges with identifying root causes is that they can go to the very heart of your company. These are rarely received with fanfare and open arms.
Another example of a proximate cause problem: “Our customer feedback highlights the long wait times. We need to hire more people.”
However, a closer look might reveal the long wait times are due to a confusing phone tree, an out-of-date system that takes customer information over the phone but doesn’t pass it along to the service rep which forces them to take the information a second time.”
Hiring more people won’t solve the problem if everyone has to go through the same step-and-repeat process. A better-designed phone tree that can deliver information to the rep is where the real solution lies. It might also result in a reduction of personnel in addition to improved customer feedback.
Which is why…
Problems Must Be Addressed in a Calm and Logical Manner
If you identify a root cause but present your findings in such a way that everyone from the newest admin to the entire C-suite is up in arms, you’ll not only fail to effect a solution but likely make it impossible for anyone else in your company to address, let alone fix, root problems.
Staying centered and rational as you propose potentially major changes for the betterment of your company allows those on the receiving end the opportunity to likewise consider your information in a calm and logical manner.
This is especially true because…
Sometimes the Problem is People and Not Processes
This is perhaps the most difficult element of a difficult process. Ego, ambition, identity, short-sightedness, they all combine to make the examination of ourselves extremely treacherous. And pointing out the mistakes of others is a minefield no sane co-worker wants to tread upon.
It’s hardly a surprise to say that people are fallible. But unless you and your co-workers can accept you may be complicit in some of the problems besetting your company, your progress will be slow at best and stalled permanently at worst.
When presented with a situation such as your accounts receivable employee turnover being twice the company average, the instinct might be to look for a solution in better training, better screening, or perhaps an increase in pay.
But the true solution might lie with that department’s leadership. Toxic employees have repeatedly been shown to have greater negative impact on a company than the positive impact star employees bring.
It’s a bit of a cliché, but…
True Progress Is Never Easy
The dictum, “No pain, no gain” isn’t limited to the gym. It’s easy to say that logic, insight, flexibility, and a willingness to overcome ego defenses are the tools for diagnosing root causes, but actually implementing them takes time, will, and political capital.
If your customers constantly complain about unmotivated, uncaring employees, a surface diagnosis may be that you need to implement higher standards of behavior, screen new employees more exactingly, or retrain the managers.
But the root causes for your employee’s poor performance may go to the heart of your company policies. Forbes magazine recently published 8 Bad Mistakes That Make Good Employees Leave. Some of these reasons include:
- Not caring about your employees
- Not showing their people the big picture
- Not making things fun
These issues can’t simply be fixed by springing for free Danish in the break room every morning. They require a buy-in from the back office that major changes need to be implemented in the company’s culture. Without this commitment, lasting, meaningful progress will be impossible.