Dealing with problems? Don’t mistake symptom for cause

As the CEO of a rapidly growing company, I spend a good portion of my time dealing with problems. I’m not complaining, of course; it’s simply part of the job. As with most things in life, the challenges I face vary greatly regarding source, severity, and sensitivity.

While the details of the problems vary, they all have one thing in common: they’re never as simple as they appear. Whether you’re dealing with investors, clients, competition, or employees, there’s usually more going on in a situation than meets the eye. Good leaders recognize this and help their teams dissect problems accordingly.

Only by understanding the complexities of an issue and separating them out can a team find the right long-term solution to the problem at hand.

 

Don’t mistake the symptom for the cause

In business and life, we tend to notice the symptoms of a problem before we understand its cause. If you react instinctively and without deep thought, you’ll make find yourself mistaking that symptom for the problem itself. When this happens, any solution you implement acts as a temporary and often misguided fix.

I encountered this just earlier this week, as a matter of fact. The team and I started brainstorming ideas around helping our institutional partners better manage the deployment and marketing process.

 

Focus on the big picture

What we discovered that all of the hiccups and frustrations we were experiencing stemmed from our failure to set proper expectations with our clients at the onset of the engagement.

First, we did not specifically require our partners to adhere to our proven marketing plan. The plan was interpreted as a suggestion, rather than an expectation. As a result, some of our partners implemented only aspects of the overall strategy, which of course led to underwhelming performance.

Second, our contracts were structured in such a way that partners had relatively little skin in the game, which led them to play it safe and take their time. When an incomplete marketing implementation collides with poor incentives, problems ensue.

 

Adopt an integrated approach

Of course, “it’s your fault” is never the right answer in business. Our job as a trusted partner is to help our clients find the right path forward, in spite of the challenges we face.

We accomplish this by adopting an integrated approach that includes virtually every aspect of our organization. First, we modified our standard contract so that going forward our customers agree to certain marketing efforts up front. Additionally, we ensured that they have enough skin in the game in order to make the rollout a success.

 

Culled from forbes.com

These two minor changes have made a world of difference in the deployment process. Now, clients have both a financial motivation to deploy rapidly and know exactly what the expected process looks like.

Next, our marketing team shifted their focus towards learning the nuances of each client’s ecosystem and culture. Once they better understood how our partners thought, they were able to tailor our standard marketing plan to their specific needs and remain engaged throughout the process.

The key lesson I learned through this process is that the problem we faced was one with many layered solutions. Had we tried to force a single solution, the process would have failed. Instead, we analyzed the symptoms we were experiencing and traced them back to the root problem.

From there, we were able to adopt an integrated approach that was far more comprehensive and nuanced than what we had done in the past. Ultimately, this led us to a model that was far more conducive to success.

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