Question mark

Most of us are quick to jump to solution mode when faced with a business problem which is usually driven by time pressures and a sense of being overwhelmed. However, this asks the bigger question “how do we know we are we solving the right problems in our business?”; the answer is that 80 per cent of the time, we are solving the problem in front of us, rather than some deeper, underlying issue. Mike Lander explains further.

There is a famous quote by Einstein that I believe encapsulates the situation most of us face in our day-to-day working lives:

If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend the first fifty-five minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” Source: Einstein

Now, sadly, few of us have the intellectual capabilities of Einstein to solve the problem in 5 minutes, however, the lesson is clear. We are faced with 100s of decisions every day, most are small and don’t warrant a great deal of analysis. However, those few decisions that can have a material impact on the way we run our businesses should demand our focus on getting the problem statement right before jumping to solutions.

A good example of this is the problem often heard at management team meetings “We need more sales, what are those guys doing?”. If we sit back for 5 minutes and think about this in more detail, the following questions should be asked before blaming the sales function for the lack of sales:

  • When we win new business, are we delivering high quality services that result in repeat business and referrals?
  • Are the sales opportunities that we win profitable at the end of the day?
  • Do we have a lead generation, lead qualification or closing issue?
  • Is our marketing activity aligned with our sales efforts?
  • Do we have the right people sitting in the right seats all heading in the same direction?
I used to run workshops training cross-functional teams in problem solving skills and the application of project management tools; the following approach has been proven to help teams to frame the problem(s) far more accurately:
  1. Current situation:
    • What are the facts relating to the current situation?
    • What are the trends over the last 12 months?
    • What are the opinions of stakeholders
    • What has been attempted before?
    • Gather data on “who, what, where, when and how”
  2. Root cause analysis: Start to delve into the root causes behind the current situation above. Use tools like the Ishikawa diagram (cause and effect) and the “5 Whys technique”.
  3. Target: Describe the “Future State” that you are aiming for ensuring that it has measurable outcomes.
  4. Challenges: What are the key things that are going to prevent you from hitting the target and what can you do about them?
  5. Proposal: What is your plan for hitting the target considering steps 1-4 above.
In conclusion:

Most people are attracted to leaders/entrepreneurs that are quick to summarise a situation and decide on the course of action required, however, there are times when a more reflective, considered and analytical approach can yield far greater, more creative and long lasting benefits.

Mike Lander, Director and co-founder of @EnsoulLondon business consultant, Chairman and business writer