Finding opportunities for growth & innovation also requires having the business competencies to identify, evaluate, and resolve internal/external issues. The issue in problem resolution is that there are often layers upon layers of actions that contribute, reinforce, and sustain the issue. Efforts to resolve a given issue are often likely to focus on the symptoms of the issue instead of the source of the problem.
Therein sits one of the fundamental challenges if problem identification: recognizing what presents as the original cause of the issue. When organizations are able to identify the original source of the issue the ability to identify relevant and effective strategies (to resolve the issue) is increased. Similarly, the ability to have a larger impact and experience wider systemic benefits as a result of the intervention are also increased as well.
Consider the hypothetical example below: The business area has a contract to provide services but these services are 3,000 hours in arrears. The business can focus directly on meeting accruing service hours but this will not resolve the source of the problem.
Consider another hypothetical example: The Business area is aware of the 3,000+ hours in arrears. Reporting traditions do not include these figures but instead focus on the current year. No one is aware but a select few. As turnover continues in the programs, any chance to identify the source of the issue and begin collaborating around how to resolve it is resisted.
Consider another hypothetical example: Teamwork, Collaboration, Professionalism, and Workplace Morale are impacted. Business goals are determined based on the status quo. In many instances the shared knowledge of where the problem surfaced is lost to history. The results determine and define the business’ culture.
The above hypothetical example is extreme but illustrates how the original causes of an issue can be lost in the problem identification process. The ability to identify the original cause of the problem can save the business in the area of time, resource, and morale. The business will also have the additional advantages of not having to deal with the consequences of the symptoms that follow.
Problems can create a ripple throughout a business if they are left unchecked. Like the ripples in a pond the symptoms of the original problem have impacts throughout the system. A System’s Thinking approach can strengthen business’ ability to analyze issues and identify the best place(s) to intervene before unnecessary damages result. In the above hypothetical example some jurisdictions would require reporting the problem. As you can imagine, the consequences of such a report would compound as time and symptoms increased.
The ‘originating causes’ of a given problem will of course depend on the situation. With each ripple in the system a new cause (and consequence) can be identified. The point of intervention will depend on the business’ goals, culture, experience with such issues, resources, and comfort with addressing primary factors. A brief list or components that have a more significant influence on a business’ system can be provided as an example.
Traditional risk management includes a proactive identification and evaluation of business risks. These risks are evaluated based on the impact & likelihood of the risk actually occurring. The compounding impact of symptoms over time will often make a simple problem (at the outset) turn into a significant and systemic problem when finally addressed. Open communication between leadership and front line staff is crucial for these symptoms to be resolved as soon as possible. The employees, customers, stakeholders, and ‘the business’ will thank you for responding quickly.
How does your team evaluate and respond to problems? Share your stories below.
Travis Barker, MPA GCPM
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