“If you pit a good performer against a bad process, the process will win almost every time.”
When we get a headache, we take an aspirin to help mitigate or alleviate the pain. We are then able to continue our activity without consistent unpleasant interruption. The solution, while viable, is temporary. We successfully treated the symptom, but because we did not find the reasons for the headache, the pain is likely to come back when the same or similar circumstances that caused the headache to begin with, reemerge.
In business, we tend to handle problems in a similar fashion. We apply “quick fixes” to remove the proverbial headache. We solve the problem for the moment to keep the business moving. However, unless we understand the "why" behind the problem, it will come back, often bigger and more problematic than the first time.
Without investigating issues, managers make assumptions that often point to people as the problem generators. The reality is most of the time issues are caused by flaws in the environment (systems, policies, processes, etc.). Managers also need to understand the many arms and legs of the business and how they are all connected. Without understanding the whole body of the business and how one impacts the other, solutions based on assumptions may help one area of a business while potentially creating issues for another.
Developing and implementing correct solutions comes from a point of knowledge. Managers should never assume they know why a problem exists without first having researched the problem by gathering information and evidence, tracing it back to its fundamental roots. Only then are managers equipped to identify and implement a solution that will eradicate the disease rather than administer a treatment that will expire before true correction. Identifying and implementing accurate solutions saves time and money, positively impacting the bottom line.
Managers can take five systematic steps to identify causes and properly identify solutions that will be long-lasting.
1. What is the desired state?
That is, what do you want the situation to look like once the problems are gone? Identify what you look like today (current state) against what you want to look like (desired state). The difference between the two is the gap. The gap is the problem that needs to be solved.
2. Why does the problem exist?
A problem truly cannot be solved unless people understand why the problem exists. Required action is to investigate and discover/uncover the root cause(s).
3. How to close the gap?
The action is to identify & develop a solution that will permanently close the gap based on findings from step 2.
4. How to get others on board?
Any solution will create change, sometimes big, sometimes small, depending on the size of the problem being resolved along with its correlating impact. For successful implementation, others need to be brought into the fold, especially those who will be directly affected; and to a lesser extent, those indirectly affected. Communicate to all necessary parties regarding what is going on and why, along with the potential for change. Do this ahead of time as well as during the review period with updates so employees have time to wrap their heads around what is coming down the road. Getting others involved, especially those whose work will be impacted, will also allow more employees to take a level of ownership over the change, increasing the probability of success.
5. How do we know the solution is working?
Action here is to evaluate and measure results. Pilots can be created to assess the solution and extent of viability. Once fully implemented, continue measuring to ensure the goal of the desired state is consistently being met.
Completion of each step doesn’t have to take a lot of time. It depends on the depth and breadth of the issue and solution. The take-away from all of this: Don’t Jump To Conclusions! Dig a little, or sometimes a lot, into why the problem exists first before taking action to fix the problem.
If you are interested in learning more about Human Performance Technology or Process Improvement, below are some resources to help whet your whistle and get you started.