Many organisations find themselves in a perpetual state of wheelspin when it comes to performance improvement. In these organisations, every new day brings fresh challenges to overcome, and often the same problems have to be addressed again and again. Each time, resources are diverted away from the business of continuous improvement and focused on “firefighting”.
Often, the employees who become adept with responding rapidly to these problems are considered to be heroes and are rewarded with promotions. Through no fault of their own, they take their firefighting skills higher up into the organisation, perpetuating this approach to dealing with performance challenges. Soon this becomes a way of life in the organisation, and employees feel unable to escape the daily grind of lurching from one crisis to the next.
In these organisations there is a poor understanding of what problem solving means and the need to focus on the root causes of problems. If problems were weeds, these organisations would be tackling the stems and the leaves, but not removing the weeds by their roots, resulting in them growing back each time.
Organisations with a strong problem solving culture understand that problem solving is not only about closing performance gaps, but about keeping them closed. They achieve this by identifying the root causes of problems when they occur, and through addressing them, prevent the problem from occurring again as a result of those specific root causes.
They also understand that a single problem can have several possible root causes. They take prevention a step further and proactively identify all possible root causes for performance problems and put measures in place to eliminate them all.
If all we ever do is take corrective action when a problem occurs, we leave ourselves open to that problem occurring repeatedly. As more and more of these problems begin occurring simultaneously and employees become caught up in taking corrective action, the work environment becomes one of confusion and chaos.
By consistently applying sound problem solving principles we can achieve performance that is more sustainable and build a solid foundation for continuous improvement. The work environment becomes calmer, there is more time for reflection and the talents of the workforce can now be deployed in pursuing innovation and taking the organisation forward, distinguishing it from its competition.
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