Tackling Core Issues in Your Business

Donald Cooper

In any business, there are often surface problems that are essentially just symptoms of more profound issues. These underlying problems are the real or fundamental issues that are the root causes of what’s going wrong. Business owners, leaders, and managers often focus on these surface symptoms because they are more apparent, easier to tackle, and far less threatening. Addressing these surface issues allows blame to be shifted to others instead of taking personal responsibility. However, meaningful solutions come only from delving deeper into the root causes.

Consider a medical analogy to understand the difference between symptoms, underlying issues, and basic problems. High blood pressure, for example, is a symptom of several underlying issues such as excessive salt intake, high-calorie consumption, insufficient water intake, physical and emotional stress, or lack of exercise. The real basic problems could be misinformation, lack of motivation, unhealthy lifestyle or career choices, unhappiness, or poor self-discipline or self-esteem. Without addressing these fundamental problems, the underlying issues will persist, and so will the symptom (high blood pressure).

In a business context, suppose your company has an unhealthy bottom line. This could be a symptom of several underlying problems, such as not having a clear and compelling value proposition, ineffective sales and marketing strategies, excessive discounting, misunderstanding the math of profitability, poor expense control, outdated information systems, low staff morale, failure to address non-performance, or make key decisions. These underlying issues point to the basic problem of ineffective management and leadership.

Similarly, if certain aspects of your customer service or customer experience fall short, those are not standalone problems. They are symptoms of underlying issues such as unclear expectations or low standards, hiring the wrong people, inadequate training, poor communication, lack of empowerment, dysfunctional systems and processes, a negative business culture, no performance measurement, insufficient passion for customers, or failure to listen to customers and frontline staff. Again, these stem from the basic problem of ineffective management and leadership. To improve customer service, you need to address these underlying and basic issues, not just the symptoms.

Often, the basic problems you’re reluctant to acknowledge and tackle involve managers at various levels (including yourself) who might be unaware, unfocused on the right priorities, inadequately trained, lacking time, struggling to transition from ‘player’ to ‘coach,’ not empowered, uninterested, or simply not capable.

Despite the discomfort, addressing the real challenges in your business requires insight, bravery, and sometimes external perspectives or help. How can you identify the real basic problems?

The process, though uncomfortable, is straightforward. Engage the best minds and truth-tellers in your business. Begin by stating what seems to be a problem or shortfall and then add, “which is caused by (fill in the blank).” List all the underlying causes of that problem or shortfall as you understand them.

Next, for each underlying problem or shortfall, state again, “which is caused by (fill in the blank).” Continue to ask and answer this question honestly, each time digging deeper until you identify the real basic cause. This is the person or thing that needs improvement, coaching, refocusing, fixing, or dealing with in some way.

Finally, determine the actions you must commit to taking to resolve the basic problem and set a deadline for these actions. Many businesses are reluctant to undertake this process because the deeper you delve, the closer you get to the top of the organization.

This exercise requires both insight and courage, but it’s the only way to uncover the real issues that are hindering your business and damaging the bottom line. The alternative is to continue in denial until it’s too late and your business fails.

By addressing the core problems head-on, you can create a healthier, more resilient business that is better equipped to thrive in the long run. Instead of masking symptoms, tackle the root causes and implement lasting solutions that drive meaningful improvement and sustainable success.

Donald Cooper has been both a world-class manufacturer and an award-winning retailer. Now a Toronto-based business speaker and coach, he helps business owners and managers rethink, refocus and re-energize their business to create compelling customer value, clarity of purpose and long-term profitability. Donald can be reached at donald@donaldcooper.com.

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