(Time to read this Blog article is about 3 minutes)

Before we get to the main topic, here are 3 things that caught my eye this week:

  1. According to Consumer Reports Magazine, the average age of cars on the road in North America is just under 12 years.  I’m old enough to remember when cars were good for 4 years…tops.  
  2. I ‘get it’ that certain names, words and terms are offensive to some folks and should be changed.  I support that.  But I think we might be going a little nuts.  The city of Duluth, Minnesota has announced that they’re dropping the terms ‘Chief Administrative Officer’, ‘Chief Financial Officer’, ‘Police Chief’ and ‘Fire Chief’ because the word ‘Chief’ might be offensive to some indigenous

    While we’re at it, let’s get rid of English Toffee, Spanish Rice and Chinese Food. 

  1. Livestock, including cows, pigs, sheep and other animals are thought to be responsible for about 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions.  Cows are the primary offenders, with each animal releasing 250 to 500 litres of methane a day through burps and farts.

    But now we have a new problem. According to a recent study by Danish scientists, nitrous oxide in Penguin poop is 300 times more polluting to the environment than carbon dioxide.  Apparently, king penguins emit copious amounts of nitrous oxide           (also know as ‘laughing gas’), via their faeces. The study shows that this potent gas is causing researchers in Antarctica to act “a little cuckoo” when they get close enough to study these penguins.  Who even knew that “a little cuckoo” was an official scientific term? 

Now, to this week’s important topic:

Do you have the insight and courage to fix the real problems in your business? 

In every business there are:

  1. surface problems which are actually just symptoms of much deeper problems,
  2. underlying problems…and finally,
  3. the real or basic problems that are the root cause of what’s going wrong.

There’s a tendency for all of us as business owners, leaders and managers to focus on the surface symptoms and not on the underlying and real basic problems because the surface problems are more obvious, easier to address and much less threatening. Dealing with surface problems allows us to point a finger at someone else, rather than ourselves.  But we’ll never solve anything without digging deeper, no matter how uncomfortable it gets. 

Let’s use a medical example of symptoms, underlying and basic problems.  ‘High blood pressure’ is really just a symptom of a number of underlying issues like consuming too much salt and too many calories, not drinking enough water, physical and emotional stress, or not exercising enough. But the real basic problem could be lack of information or motivation, toxic lifestyle or career choices, unhappiness, lack of self-discipline or self-esteem.  If we don’t address these real basic problems, the underlying problems will continue and the symptom (high blood pressure) will persist.   

So, let’s say that your business has an unhealthy bottom line. That could be a symptom of a number of underlying problems like not having a clear and compelling value proposition, ineffective sales and marketing, excessive discounting, not understanding the math of profitability, poor expense control, antiquated information systems, low staff morale, failure to deal with non-performance, failure to make key decisions, etc. Those are all underlying problems. The basic problem is ineffective management and leadership.

Or, let’s say that some aspects of your customer service or customer experience aren’t what they need to be. Those are not problems…they’re symptoms of underlying problems such as lack of clear expectations or high standards, hiring the wrong people, lack of proper training, ineffective communication, lack of empowerment, dysfunctional systems and processes, a negative business culture, no performance measurement, a lack of passion and love of customers or failure to listen to customers and front-line staff…all of which are the result of the basic problem of ineffective management and leadership.  You don’t ‘fix’ bad customer service.  You ‘fix’ the underlying and basic problems that are causing it.  

Bonus:  For a look at what might be causing ‘service problems’ in your business, download our 1-page ‘Service Challenge Audit Sheet’ by ‘clicking here’. This will help you determine the underlying causes.  Then, you’ll still have to dig deeper to identify the basic problems. 

The basic problems, the ones we’re reluctant to identify and deal with, could be managers at various levels (including ourselves) who are not aware, not focused on the right things, not properly trained, don’t have time, haven’t made the transition from ‘player’ to ‘coach’, are not empowered, not interested or simply not capable.  

As painful as it may be, we must deal with the real challenges in our business and not just the surface and underlying problems. That requires insight and courage and may require outside perspective and help in some form.

How do you get to the real basic problems?  It’s easy…uncomfortable…but easy.  Involve the best minds and most courageous truth-sayers in your business.  Start by stating what appears to be a problem or shortfall in the business and then say, “Which is caused by __________.”   and list all the underlying causes of that problem or shortfall, as best you understand them.

Then, for each of those underlying problems or shortfalls, ask again, “Which is caused by __________.” Keep asking and answering that question honestly and courageously, each time digging a little deeper until you get to the real basic cause.  That’s the thing or person that needs to be improved, coached, refocused, fixed or dealt with in some other way. Sorry, but that’s reality and ‘the beginning of wisdom is the recognition of reality.’  

Finally, determine what action you commit to take to fix the basic problem…and by when.  Most businesses are reluctant to embrace this process because the deeper you go, the closer to the top of the organization you get.

This exercise takes both insight and courage, but it’s the only way to get to the real issues that are holding back the business and hurting the bottom line.  The alternative is to carry on in blissful denial until it’s too late.  If you’d like to chat about this, I’m easy to find at donald@donaldcooper.com or by phone at 416-252-3703 in Toronto, Canada.


That’s it for this week…

Stay calm…live brilliantly…and do at least 3 important or kind things each day!       

Donald Cooper 


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