By Keith E. Smith
Every business owner, CEO, and manager has encountered roadblocks; something that holds the business back and prevents it from growing. They know they must figure it out, and fix it, as soon as possible. That is usually when they realize that figuring out the problem is, at least at times, more difficult than fixing it. The key is to pinpoint the exact cause, and not waste time addressing the symptoms. If the exact cause is repaired, the symptoms no longer exist.
I spent nearly two decades in the automotive world, most of that time as a certified technician. I was trained to pinpoint the root cause of a concern based on the symptom. A symptom is a sign or indication that a problem exists, but is not necessarily the problem itself.
For example: Let’s say your car’s radio stops working. Your initial thought may be that the radio is at fault. That is not an unreasonable guess, but until you investigate further it is still just a guess. After looking into it further, you discover that the electrical connector on the back of the radio had come loose because it had not been properly installed. You correct the connector issue and voila’-the radio starts working. The root cause of the concern was not the radio, even though the radio is what exhibited the symptom. Every vehicle is a combination of many different systems. In order to properly diagnose any individual system of a vehicle, the vehicle has to be viewed as a whole. This same concept is true in a business.
To illustrate how this concept is as applicable to business as it is to a vehicle, let’s use another example. This time, the symptom is that sales are down in your business. Everything had been moving along just fine, but within a few months’ time the amount of sales being made by your salespeople plummeted. Initially, you may think that more sales training is needed. After all, the salespeople are not selling so that must be the problem, right? Not necessarily. If you begin to dig deeper, perhaps by individually interviewing your salespeople, you may find that the root cause goes deeper. It could be that morale is low, and that the overall culture of the business is affecting their performance. Or it could be something else, but the point is that the root cause of the symptom was not immediately obvious.
There will be times when the cause of a problem is plainly visible, but more often than not you will have to dig deeper to find the root cause. Just like the vehicle example above, a business is made up of several different systems, and you have to understand how each individual system affects the business as a whole before you break it down into its individual systems. The only way to fix a problem is to pinpoint exactly what is causing it. Learn to do this and your business, and career, will soar.