Solving Organisational Problems: Identifying those Causes
In our previous post about Solving Organisational Problems , we mentioned the difference between symptoms, the pain that is being experienced at the moment, and the causes of the problem, the underlying reason or trigger for the current symptoms.
Symptoms are the sign that a problem exists. Like symptoms of sickness, they may not be strong indicators of the actual problem. They are just the flag that an issue exists.
The confusing thing about causes is that they may be multi-layered.
What appears at first glance to be a cause may in fact be a different symptom on our journey to uncover the underlying cause.
The Chain of Cause and Effect
In fact what we often find is a chain of cause and effect relationships as we move ever deeper in our quest to find the initial causal trigger for the problem.
In one company that we worked with, the symptom was a high turnover rate in one part of the company. Our first analysis indicated a decreased level of respect for the small management team in that area. Continuing to explore, asking the important question “why”, and analysing results, we uncovered a chain of causes, leading ultimately to a poorly managed implementation of a large software system that was imposed by another part of the organisation and required changes to the way in which this team worked. The team was not consulted, the management team felt powerless to request changes, and there was little training or support given. The team as a whole was struggling with the new requirements, and feeling undervalued and unsupported; many of them left for greener pastures.
Just today I heard the story of a famed German Artist with an installation piece in Dortmund, Germany, that included a wall painted to look like it was water stained from dripping water. A cleaner, not aware of the inclusion of the wall in the installation, scrubbed it until it was squeaky clean, wiping out $1m of value in the process. Our first inclination is to blame the cleaner. But I imagine that there is a chain of cause-effect relationships that will be uncovered, including the lack of training for all staff, not just the cleaners, on current works in the gallery and appropriate handling. The outcome of this is that Dortmund has essentially lost a key art work of which it was very proud, and was a large tourist attraction for the area.
Finding the Root Cause: Spend the Time
In our previous post (Solving Organisational Problems) we highlighted how it was essential to remove the root cause in order to provide a long term and sustainable solution to the problem. The root cause is the “evil at the bottom” that sets in motion that chain. Our recommendation to any organisation is that you spend the time required to identify that evil at the bottom, allocating sufficient resources (people, time and any required budget).
Some common examples of problems that require careful analysis
- A cafe is found to be breaching the Health and Safety Act and is fined.
- Staff are at loggerheads with each other, even refusing to work together.
- High levels of returns of goods or rework requests.
- Higher than normal levels of customer complaints (in person, email, social media etc).
- Safety incidents on the rise.
- Staff failing to contribute in meetings or to initiatives.