Hello, my friends.
I would like to share a lesson today about effectiveness – your effectiveness in business and in your personal life.
You’ve heard the old story of the Tortoise and the Hare. What is the point of that story? Is it just that going slow and keeping at it in the long run beats the person who doesn’t persevere but starts out with great fanfare? Of course, that’s one of the lessons. There is also another. It is about taking your time at the beginning to understand truly what the objective is and, in fact, what the problem is.
You can’t be an effective problem solver if you don’t understand what the problem is.
So many times, people rush to judgment. They think they understand what the problem is and then are shocked when the things they propose or actually do in terms of solutions don’t address the circumstances. This is because they never really understood the problem in the first place.
I am going to give you a couple of examples, one to just illustrate the principle and then another as it pertains to a real business problem that is fairly common.
Imagine you are driving down the road, and you come upon a giant hole. You see it in advance, so you stop the car.
Someone asks, “What’s the problem?”
You answer, “There’s a hole in the road.”
Of course, that’s a problem. But it is not the REAL problem. It’s a symptom of a problem.
If the hole in the road is not the problem, what is the REAL problem? Think about it.
Most likely someone will say the next typical thing: “You can’t get by the hole. People can’t get by. Cars and trucks can’t pass. People are going to be late for wherever they’re going – home, work, or elsewhere. That’s the problem.”
That’s not the REAL problem, either. That is a consequence of the problem.
The problem – the bottom line real problem here – is erosion.
Typically, when there is a hole in the road, it comes from the fact that when water and gravity combine to take out the underneath of a road, there is a collapse.
The hole is not the problem. It is merely a symptom of the problem.
The fact that you can’t go through it is a consequence.
In terms of solving the problem, if you focus only on the symptom, you’ll just fill the hole with dirt and pave over it.
Have you addressed the REAL problem?
Unless civil engineers and highway workers address the problem and do the right things in order to address the potential for future erosion, it is just a matter of time before that hole reappears.
If you address the consequence (the fact that people can’t get by) by detouring people and telling them to go another way, that doesn’t address the problem either.
Taking time to truly understand the problem is the very first step to solving it.
In business, this scenario is a very common one. I dealt with it not too long ago with one of my coaching clients, a senior executive who was experiencing high employee turnover. They lost 12% of their employees the year prior. And then an additional 8% of their employee base left voluntarily in the first half of the current year.
Of course, my initial question was, “What’s the problem?”
He responded, “What do you mean, what’s the problem? I just told you. The problem is we have a high employee turnover rate. I’ve lost all of these people.”
I said, “Well, no, I don’t think that’s the problem. I think that’s a symptom of the problem. What’s the problem?”
He thought about it and responded, “I have to go hire. I am going to great expense in my human resources function to recruit. I’m paying exorbitant fees for head hunters to locate people. I’m spending an arm and a leg on recruitment and employee retention, so those costs are huge, and I can’t bear them in the long run. That’s the problem.”
Given the previous example, you have likely concluded this is not the problem, either, but it is a consequence of the problem.
I am not making a semantic argument that says, “Technically, that’s not the problem.” Of course, these things are problematic. But if you don’t get underneath the surface to understand what is causing these things to happen, you are not going to be able to solve them.
In this particular case, the company had done employee surveys for the last four years. I looked through the data with their HR staff and, sure enough, the surveys indicated an issue with poor leadership. In particular, the responses exposed an enormous issue with micromanagement. This was identified not only from feedback received from employees who had left, but from those who remained as well.
Think about the difference between leadership and management. It is night and day. People do not want to be managed. Systems and procedures should be managed. People should be led.
The real problem in this scenario was that there was a lack of employee empowerment, and a culture that did not treat employees with respect.
Employee disengagement was merely an indicator of this underlying problem.
The problem manifested itself in the symptoms of people who, when given an opportunity to escape, took it. This then led to the consequence of high recruitment and employee retention expenses.
This is a valuable lesson for everyone.
Once you have determined the real problem, you can begin to address it at the root cause. Instead of just putting dirt in the proverbial pothole, you are dealing with the real problem of erosion.
In dealing with the real problem, you accomplish three objectives.
- You prevent future occurrences. The erosion stops. Your employees are empowered, and you are respected as a leader.
- You eradicate the symptoms. The pothole does not come back. Your employee retention issue is resolved.
- You eliminate costly consequences. You do not disrupt the flow of traffic. You are not constantly having to spend tens of thousands of dollars on recruitment and new employee training.
This applies to more than just potholes and business. It applies to every area of your life.
If you are having arguments with your spouse or children, stop and ask yourself, “What’s the REAL problem?”
If your health is subpar, stop and ask yourself, “What’s the REAL problem?” Though not in all cases, certainly, but in most, the medical diagnosis is not the real problem. The problem is the habit that created it.
Fix the problem, not the person, the symptom, or the consequence. Find the problem and fix it.
You will be amazed at the symptoms and consequences that no longer exist as a welcome side effect of simply fixing the problem.