When we approach problem solving we rarely get to the bottom of things because our initial reaction is to quickly ‘treat where it hurts’. But when you’ve broken your ankle and you’re in pain, you want to treat it right away. First aid will take the pain away, but won’t really heal your ankle. True healing is needed before the symptoms will disappear for good.
So how do you approach problems at work? Do you jump right in and treat the symptoms? Or do you look deeper and consider if there’s an underlying issue that needs your attention?
ADDRESS THE ROOT CAUSE AND NOT THE SYMPTOMS
Root causes are the underlying reasons for our issues and problems. Working out why the issue has developed is a crucial part of any problem solving. Symptoms are signs that a problem exists. For instance, your company has trouble retaining good people. This symptom can be traced back to the following underlying causes – excessive overtime, poor management, lack of career path etc. So when we want to solve a problem, it is important that we address the core issue and not the related symptoms.
GET TO THE ROOT CAUSE OF THE ISSUE
To get to the root cause of an issue and ensure we are working on the REAL problem, we perform a simple analysis by asking a series of ‘why’ questions. Sometimes it may take several questions to get to the root cause. We use a method which involves the 5 Why’s. For example:
Issue: Lack of Sales
WHY 1 – Why is there a lack of sales? ANSWER 1 – Sales team are underperforming;
WHY 2 – Why is the sales team underperforming? ANSWER 2 – There is no sales process;
WHY 3 – Why is there no sales process? ANSWER 3 – It has never been documented;
WHY 4 – Why hasn’t it been documented? ANSWER 4 – No training on how to do it;
WHY 5 – Why is there no sales training? ANSWER 5 – It has never been a priority.
This is just a simplified example but one that highlights how many businesses will say that they have an issue with ‘sales’, when really their core issue is the lack of training for their sales team.
IDENTIFYING WHAT THE REAL PROBLEM IS
Now it’s your turn: think about an issue and work through the 5 Why’s to get to the root cause using the table below.
Your last answer to the series of ‘Why’ questions is likely to be the root cause and what is generating the symptoms. Once you identify the root causes of issues, you can come up with specific solutions and an action plan to solve the problem.