Monday, September 3, 2012

Identify the Problem

"Whatever failures I have known, whatever errors I have committed, whatever follies I have witnessed in public and private life, have been the consequences of action without thought."
~ Bernard Baruch

In business as well as in every other area of daily life, you are going to encounter problems. This is just part of the human condition. However, in business the stakes can be very high, and the results can be disastrous if you are unable to find the appropriate solution. 
Entrepreneur after entrepreneur have failed because they missed seeing and properly identifying the problem.

Typically, when I am asked to consult with a business, it is to help them with some kind of problem. It could be anything from an HR issue to an accounting issue.

In every case, my first order of business is to help them correctly identify the problem so we can settle on the right solution. It can be a tricky process. Sometimes what appears to be the problem is influenced by a larger issue. Other times, it is not the problem at all.

For example, I was assisting an entrepreneur who was having a problem with an employee who was not working hard enough. As per my usual process, I began by asking the entrepreneur to describe the problem in general terms. Then I asked him to tell me what he thought the underlying issue was. Initially, he responded that he felt the employee lacked motivation but, after more discussion, he realized the real problem was his hiring decision – and not just in this one case.

As I continued to ask more questions, it became clear that his hiring process was flawed. Sure, he would have to deal with this one employee, but if he did not address the root issue, he would only have to face it again in the future. With this understanding, he could alter his process to ensure he was hiring the right people for the job.

In another instance, an entrepreneur came to me for help because she was frustrated with how long it took the company to introduce a new product in the marketplace. Initially, she thought the problem was not having enough staff in place, but after some questioning by me, she realized it was not a personnel issue but the fact that they had inadequate software to monitor and evaluate new projects.

To use a personal example, I have a wonderful black lab, Sophie. I have trained her to compete in AKC obedience trials and she has done remarkably well, earning two titles with one more to go. Recently, however, I just lost the enthusiasm to train her every day, which is so necessary.

For the life of me, I could not figure out why I had lost this motivation, but once I tried to define the problem, the answer became clear to me. I had simply not set any goals for myself in this area and I need goals to stay motivated. Once I was able to figure this out and make the necessary adjustments, I felt so much better and Sophie and I both enjoyed her training.

Now go out and make sure that before you jump into solving what you think is the problem, you have looked to see if there is another issue at work. To help make this determination, ask yourself the following questions:

1.    Why has this become a problem?
2.    Is this an isolated issue or have there been other similar problems?
3.    If I am successful in solving the problem I have identified, would all associated issues disappear?
4.    If I could rebuild my operation, how would I do it now to avoid this problem in the future?
You can do this!

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