Monday, November 2, 2015

Have You Focused on Fixing the Wrong Cause of a Problem?

The company is trying to fix a symptom, not the real problem which is stifling staff creativity, innovation, and communication.

As human species, we are still facing many problems and challenges. Either for individuals, organizations, or society as a whole, the problem-solving capability is crucial to surviving and thriving. However, many decision-makers fail to fully grasp and accurately perceive what leads to problems and difficulties. Often, events and patterns are observed on the surface, and then the action is taken, but that is too early. After observing events and patterns, there are the underlying structures, the mechanisms, that cause the problem. And people lack critical thinking are usually never question because "it's the way things should be." Problem-solving in the majority of organizations today is woefully inadequate, so what happens when you focus on fixing the wrong cause of problems?

The company is trying to fix a symptom, not the real problem which is stifling staff creativity, innovation, and communication: It may be an attempt to fix an assumed cause, in which case, the effort to fix it wouldn't be a total loss. It would eliminate a possible cause and move you closer to the actual or real cause. Often times, we have a tendency to try to fix a symptom which results from the actual cause of the problem. When we do this, we throw good money after bad. We allow problems to grow under the surface, out of sight, out of mind, until it’s too late. Until the underlying problem is addressed, the symptom or result will continue to return. So trying to fix the wrong cause of a problem will waste time and resources, increase anxiety, and leave industries full of opportunists that see long-term rewards by offering solutions that address symptoms & results rather than problems. A better solution that crosses all industries is to keep peeling back the layers to find the root cause via asking five WHYs, or taking other systematic approaches - to discover the real cause, and address it.

The trick is to recognize negative trends early enough to change direction: "Metrics" is important. First, measure the right things, and then measure them right. If you can't measure it, quantify it, it’s difficult to change and "improve" it. Not only must there be a way to measure and quantify a condition; there must be a willingness to want to improve the condition. In the business world, if the change doesn't translate to the bottom line, it’s doomed. Although quantitative measures do play a valuable part in assessing measuring/ quantifying anything. However, quantifying is only part of the pie. Many times, in the business world, the metrics do show a pretty pie chart and that is what management want to see (the numbers add up). But, when managers walk out on the "floor," the morale is down, the burnout rate is high, the sick-days is taken, a breakdown in communication and turnover is high. When these areas diminish, there is a huge problem. Unfortunately, many leaders will identify the wrong cause of the problems and inadvertently waste time, money and resources trying to fix problems.

Silo thinking is often one of the thought processes focusing on symptoms, not the root causes: At their heart, silos are not a structural issue, they are the result of poor thinking. Or is it small thinking that causes silos and slowness? Managers tend to respond to silos by reorganizing, but this is hardly ever the most important aspect or the place to start. What we need to do is change thinking. The silo issue is more a question of thinking and attitude than a pure organizational/ structural issue. The silos can only be broken down if you change people’s attitude - working together to achieve the most for the company as a whole - sometimes it requires that "your" department have to take on more work, step back etc., in order for the whole business to prosper even more. Often people seem to be prisoners of their habits and behaviors - resulting from their thoughts, beliefs, and paradigms. How to change thought models and attitudes? That is only a start to awareness of something new, broader perspective and a possibility of something new. How to make this necessary change in thinking into new ways of working together - and giving up the safe old silo culture? Complexity science has the potential to take care of that for those who can learn to live with the uncertainty. One workaround solution that can be effective in the short term is the creation of temporary project organizations comprised of members of the silos to deliver transformative change. If well designed and led the team can deliver a rewarding experience for everyone…


A systematic approach with “OODA” decision cycle to problem solving  can be effective: Step #1 is to "observe" -- this is where you collect data from every possible source. There may be symptoms, assumptions, conjecture, ancillary causes, root causes, and everything else buried in the mess, but you still collect the information from different sources. Step #2 is to "orient" - to synthesize the data and separate out the fact from fiction, and drill down to the true facts and the root cause. It is the step to "frame the problem." Step#3 is to "decide" - to take the identification of the facts and root cause, and mold into a solution based on the objectives and other extenuating circumstances. It is also the step to identify and prioritize alternative solutions." Step #4 is to "act" - to actually execute on the decisions that were made.


System based analysis can surely contribute to solving most of the problems in organizations. Besides logic, there is a role for intuition. Maybe the comprehensive answer to excellence in problem solving is a combination of both.

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