Are we treating the symptoms, or the real problem?

Lately, I’ve been having a lot of knee pain.  For the last few months, its been constant and regular and seemed to get worse when I would spend a lot of time on my feet.  My initial thought was that my years of powerlifting in high school was finally catching up to me and I was finally seeing the response to have over 500 pounds of weight on my shoulders (I won the national powerlifting championship in 1990 at 16 with a 550 pound squat, 350 pound bench press and 500 pound deadlift). That’s a lot of weight to be on anyone’s shoulders, but probably worse for a developing young man.

I was about to resign myself to the fact that my knees would ache for the rest of my life or I’d have to have some form of knee surgery, until one day I happened to realize that my feet began to hurt a bit before my knees hurt.  It seemed that the foot pain was a precursor to the knee pain.

I did some research and found that when you’ve got bad foot support in shoes, it can cause knee pain.  About that same time, I saw the Dr. Scholl’s FootMapping Machine and its ability to ‘read’ your feet and tell you what type of orthotics to buy.   I found a machine at my local Wal-Mart and tried it out…sure enough, it told me that my low arches were forcing pressure on other parts of the feet, which is exactly what my research said would cause knee pain.

I bought the recommended orthotics and now…no knee pain.  I’ve been pain free for a few days now.

It would have been very easy for me to call up a Doctor and describe my knee pain and my history.  It would then have been just as easy for that Doctor to prescribe surgery for that knee pain.  And…it would have been easy for me to spend tens of thousands of dollars on medical expenses on something that turned out to be poor support for my feet.

Instead…because I spent some time research the issue, I found that I could solve my problem with a much simpler approach.  For $50 I was able to solve the real problem causing my knee pain.

Much like the current business environment isn’t it?

Many organizations today are in pain and are looking for solutions.  They’re patients looking for a good doctor.  They’ve got a lot of pain, and there’s a lot of people willing to offer medication or surgery for that pain, but very few people willing to treat the real problem(s).

Take social media as an example.  There are problems that social media can treat well.  But…there are a lot of people prescribing social media for many different ‘pains’ and ignore the underlying problems.

For instance…if your organization has a history of poor customer service, would you first take a look at the customer service organization, culture and processes for ways to improve? Or…do you do as many organizations are doing today and join twitter,  FaceBook and other social media platforms to ‘engage’ with your customers?

Many consultants & companies will tell you to ‘get out there’ on the social media platforms to engage with your customers.  These people are treating the symptoms rather than the real underlying causes.  The pain is the blow-back created by poor customer service and many people would argue that by ‘engaging’ with these customers, you’ll somehow magically improve service.

While this might be true in some instances…it doesn’t address the underlying problems. You may improve service for a few people (or few hundred people) using social media but the underlying problem still exists….the problem of poor customer service. Social Media won’t solve the underlying problem of poor service culture or processes.

Of course…treating the symptom works in many cases.  Have a headache…take an aspirin.  No more headache…for now.

But what happens when that headache isn’t the actual problem?

What if that headache is actually just a by-product of meningitis or a tumor?  Without taking the time to really understand all the symptoms, just treating the headache may not treat the real problem.

That aspirin would help the headache today…but it’ll return tomorrow.

So…next time you see a problem in your organization, take a good long look at it and make sure its the real problem before throwing money & bodies at it.

Make sure you’re solving the real problem…not just addressing the pain.

Links for Nov 30 2008

Happy Sunday…for those of you in the USA, I hope you had a good Thanksgiving.

Here’s some interesting Sunday reading for ya:

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Factors affecting Productivity – IT, Management and Process

Bit Literacy: Productivity in the Age of Information and E-mail Overload

Interesting analysis today over on Jeffrey Phillips’ Thinking Faster Blog in an article titled “Productivity Barriers“.

Note: if you have an interest in productivity in this digital age, check out Bit Literacy: Productivity in the Age of Information and E-mail Overload (Affiliate Link)…great book.

In the article, Phillips discusses a recent newsletter from IFS (an ERP software vendor) that discussed the issues of usability of ERP systems. In the newsletter, IFS relates survey results that tried to, in Phillips’ words, understand:

…how much of a barrier the enterprise software most of us use everyday presents to becoming more productive

The research that IFS presented is quite interesting (click here to read the results on CIO.com). In addition to looking at usability, the research looked at productivity and asked questions around what factors caused a loss in productivity in the organization. The results aren’t surprising…results included things like (not in any order):

  • too many emails
  • too much work
  • lack of clear priorities
  • poor IT optimization
  • too many meetings

The survey respondents were than asked to supply factors that effected their own productivity and, again, the results aren’t really that surprising…results included things such as unclear objectives, not enough resources, too many meetings, etc etc.

What I found most interesting was Phillips’ take on the root causes of the above issue. He writes:

  • Unclear objectives/priorities – poor management strategic direction and communication
  • Too many meetings – poor management skills and time management
  • Too much work/Lack of resources – downsizing and “doing more with less”
  • IT not optimized/doesn’t work the way the company works – inflexible technology supporting a business that is required to be flexible and change
  • So, in my simple analysis, many of the issues related to productivity have to do with clear management direction and communication, and the ability to communicate what’s important. Additionally, in today’s market, flexibility and adaptability are just as important as established processes and operational excellence, but our technology, systems and processes aren’t designed that way.

Jeffrey Phillips’ hits it on the head.

Most problems with productivity today can be traced to a few factors (at least in my experience). These are:

  1. Poor Alignment of Information Technology and/or IT Process to the Business goals – If your organization needs to be flexible, don’t put in an inflexible IT system and/or IT process.
  2. Reliance on formal IT process – Process is good. Process is necessary. Create process to allow for flexibility, speed and change. Most processes today in the IT world do not follow this mantra. They are created and then their creators expect people to follow them closely with no deviation and no room for change.
  3. Poor Communication – Managers need to understand that in order to get the most of their teams, they need to clearly outline the responsibilities and expectations of the people in their teams. Without this clear communications, people will spend time trying to determine what they should be doing and/or who should be doing it.
  4. Poor Leadership – with good leadership, an organization can overcome many things. Excellent leaders will overcome poor process (by changing the process), poor alignment (by aligning IT and business), and poor communication (by ensuring communication improves).

Phillips’ analysis of the results of the IFS study were right on the mark….or at least they match up with my own thougths 🙂