(Time to read this Blog article is about 60 seconds)


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 managers to focus on the surface symptoms and not the underlying and real basic problems in our business or department.  Why do we do this?  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 is. 

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 life or career choices, unhappiness, lack of self-discipline or self-esteem.  If we don’t address these real basic problems, the symptom (high blood pressure) will remain.   

So, let’s say that your business has an unhealthy bottom line…or no bottom line at all. That could be a symptom of a number of underlying problems like not having a clear and compelling value proposition, ineffective marketing, excessive discounting, 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 problems, the ones we’re reluctant to deal with could be  managers at various levels who are not aware, not focused, not properly trained, not empowered, not interested, or not capable.

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

How do you get to the real basic problems?  It’s easy.  You state what appears to be a problem or shortfall in the business and then state, “Which is caused by ___________ .”   Whatever you answer as the cause, you ask again, “Which is caused by __________.”   You keep asking and answering that question honestly, each time digging deeper and deeper until you get to the real cause.  That’s the thing that needs to be dealt with.   

This exercise takes insight and courage, but it’s the only way to get to the real issues.  The alternative is to carry on in blissful denial until it’s too late.  

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