Find The Root-Cause Then Solve Your Problem

Last week I wrote about the simplicity of Problem Solving.  A key component of solving any problem is to first identify the problems root-cause.  All too often we address symptoms of a problem and not its root-cause.  Imagine after feeling hot all we did was unbutton a collar or took off a sweater only later to discover that we have a fever and the cause of that fever is an infection from a simple cut.  Trying to solve a business problem based on symptoms alone could end with the same result – you could succumb.  How do you find the root-cause of a situation?  What steps do you follow?

Let’s start with a simple reality.  Jumping to conclusions without understanding the root-causes of problems often leads to wasted time and resources.  Usually, it is best to have localized the occurrence of a problem before attempting to identify its root-causes.  Before you begin identifying any root cause ensure first that you and your team agree on what the problem is.  There are several methods to do this.  Among them are:



Cause and effect diagrams

Process Mapping (flowcharting)

Each of these requires data collecting and the use of data analytics.  In many cases that involves, like it or not, the use of math.  Sometimes that is simple arithmetic and other times it can involve complex algorithms usually conducted by sophisticated software applications that make the process simple for the user.  The key is that without data you are trusting instinct and guesswork to determine your problem identification as well as to make decisions for you.  This increases the risk of poor decision making and a series of attempts that cost money and do not achieve the end result.

“The key is that without data you are trusting instinct and guesswork to determine your problem identification as well as to make decisions for you.”

An example is our current recruiting trends due to a labor shortage.  Many organizations are simply increasing pay to attract workers.  The fundamental flaw in that approach is that so is everyone else.  Ultimately the reasons you are losing workers to your competitors, the root-cause, is not addressed.

A real-world example is one I experienced when I was head of HR for a large hospital system.  Our nursing vacancy rate was over 25%, and our turnover was almost 40%.  Some members of management thought the best way to approach that was to pay Nurses more.  We were already market competitive and two world-class health systems within commuting distance could easily match us dollar for dollar.  We couldn’t win a wage war.

“We couldn’t win a wage war.”

I convinced management to let me and my team research the issue, find the root-cause and then we could act.  So we did.  With the assistance of a local newspaper with extensive market data, interviewing current nursing staff, former nursing staff and the local nursing schools that provided us with new nurses we were able to pinpoint that root-cause for our turnover as well as our inability to attract nurses who would stay with the organization.  The solution was simple.  Much of it went to culture.  Our recruiting efforts targeted a population based on a perceived organizational culture instead of what we were.

Further, with a career field where continuing education was not only an imperative but also a key buying motive (you have to sometimes look at your employees as consumers) we were doing little to support them in ensuring they had the necessary continuing education to maintain their licenses.  In short, it wasn’t compensation that was causing our issues; it was where and how we recruited as well as how we supported our valuable employees.  We changed what we did.  The result was that we reduced our vacancies to under 10% and our turnover to less than 3% within the nursing employee population.  We expanded this experience to other career and job areas within the health system and significantly improved our recruiting and retention efforts.

“…you have to sometimes look at your employees as consumers.”

Our problem-solving process used a combination of brainstorming and 5-why’s coupled with the ability to communicate the results so that an appropriate solution could be found and executed.  We were then able to measure the impact of our solution, make a few adjustments along the way, and have a lower cost solution that had a significant cost-benefit return for the organization.

Finding the root-cause takes a little effort but does not have to be complicated.  Simple approaches can work and the lessons learned from these can be expanded on and applied to other business issues within the company.  When done correctly the business does not experience a series of failed solutions that result in a snowballing of new solutions because the others didn’t achieve the desired outcome.

Clear, simple, and sustainable.