Blog

What’s the Real Problem?

What’s the Real Problem? post image

Have you ever had a leak, repaired it, only to find the drip, drip, drip showing up someplace else? Or have you recognized a familiar employee engagement problem, and breathed an immediate, “Oh, I’ve seen this movie before” sigh of relief and began to apply your time-tested know-how, only to realize the sequel was far different from the original?

When Sebastian was little, our dining room chandelier started leaking. It didn’t take us long to realize the drip was related to the tub on the floor above. We caulked. We tightened up the faucets. The problem seemed to stop, until one day, it didn’t, and the water dripped down right into our lasagna. This time, the water all over the bathroom floor gave it away. Our leaky lighting was a result of over zealous bath-time fun. A quick conversation on bathing etiquette, and we never had the problem again.

So the other day when the recessed lighting in my new home office started to weep, I knew just what to do. “Sebastian, stop it!” “But Mom…. “of course he was right. As it turns out, the builders had missed an important piping connection.

Getting to the Root Cause of the Problem

What people bring to you is likely a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. Pause. Get curious. Ask questions. Get the relevant facts. Here are three specific questions you can ask to help identify the real problem and not waste valuable time addressing symptoms:

1. What is different from what you expected?
In The Rational Manager, Charles Kepner and Benjamin Trego identify a problem as “a deviation from some standard of performance.” Simply put, what didn’t go the way you expected?

2. What has not changed?
This is a critical step that most managers skip altogether. When you identify a problem, it is helpful to know what has not changed. This helps eliminate issues that needn’t concern you.

3. Have I faced a similar issue before?

What’s the same? What’s different about this scene?

4. Why? Why? Why?
Once you’ve limited the problem to what it is and what it is not, look for causes by asking, “Why?” You will often have to ask several times.

You can waste incredible amounts of time in vain attempts to solve the wrong problem. Managers who win well don’t leap in with solutions right away. When they are presented with a problem, they pause, ask questions, and work to identify the real issue.

Winning Well Pre-Order Bonus

Winning Well-3DFor every copy of Winning Well that you pre-order, David Dye and I will send you a free custom-signed bookplate with your requested message.

Simply order Winning Well from your favorite bookstore (eg Amazon) or CEO Reads for bulk orders, then go to www.WinningWellBook.com. Click on THE BOOK, then on CUSTOMIZE YOUR BOOK, and submit your message in the form. When the book ships, we’ll send you a custom, hand-signed,adhesive bookplate that you can put inside the front cover.

Even better, there is no limit to the number of bookplates you may get. Get an affordable, customized resource for yourself and for all the managers in your life!

Your turn. What’s your favorite way to get to the root cause of the problem?
Filed Under:   Results & Execution, winning well
 
 
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was recently named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers, AMA's 50 Leaders to Watch in 2015, & Top Thought Leader in Trust by Trust Across America. She’s the author of 2 books: Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss.
 

Join The Conversation

What People Are Saying

Terri Klass   |   15 February 2016   |   Reply

You are so right to recognize the importance of getting to the root cause of a problem before leaping to solve it. In my problem solving programs we spend the most amount of time defining the problem accurately. Huge mistakes are made in organizations and teams when people start to solve an issue which turns out isn’t the real issue at all. Glad you got your problem fixed!

Love your stories Karin!

Karin Hurt   |   19 February 2016   |   Reply

Terri, Sounds like a great and useful approach! It’s so tempting to jump in to solve things. It’s so much better to go slow to go fast.

LaRae Quy   |   15 February 2016   |   Reply

Great article, Karin!

Asking questions is perhaps the best way to unlock what is truly going on…questions allow us to reframe the issue and the right ones can allow us to see things in a totally different light. Often, that change in perspective is all we need to move forward!

Karin Hurt   |   19 February 2016   |   Reply

LaRae, I so agree! I’m a BIG believer in the art of strategic questions.

zafar manzoor   |   16 February 2016   |   Reply

Excellent points to resolve chronic problems in organizations and to avoid recurrence of same in future.
People in organizations sometime make costly mistakes / blunders in haste, due to inadequate trainings, not following the standard procedures / instructions and not learning from the past.

Karin Hurt   |   19 February 2016   |   Reply

Zafar, So great to have you joining us and extending the conversation. You raise a good point about avoiding recurring issues. Thank you.

Alli Polin   |   16 February 2016   |   Reply

A lot of time is wasted treating symptoms. Thanks for the reminder to stop and dig before going into fix-it mode.

Alli

Karin Hurt   |   19 February 2016   |   Reply

Alli,
I so agree. Treating the symptoms can feel good for a while, but doesn’t create lasting change. Thanks as always for your insights.

Liza Heidelberger   |   16 February 2016   |   Reply

Great stuff, Karin! It seems the real problem typically comes down to people being people. :) My favorite questions that dig into the WHY are, “What critical information is (name) missing, and what do I need to do to communicate better?” and, “What emotional needs are not being met?” When I taught classes on behavior, I always used the iceberg analogy. The problem that you see is the top of the iceberg, but the root of the problem is the huge chunk of ice that lies beneath the surface!

Karin   |   19 February 2016   |   Reply

Liza, Thanks so much for extending the conversation. That’s a great question… “what critical information is___ missing?” Imagine the possibilities if more people were asking that?

0 0items

Your shopping cart is empty.

Items/Products added to Cart will show here.