The key to growing your company is to prevent problems rather than solve them. There are two parts to this: Attitude and Skill.
Attitude – you must not like being the hero
Heroes solve problems. Usually at the last moment in dramatic fashion with a fanfare and a flourish of cape – just before they dash off to a secret place where they can transform into their secret identity. If this turns you on, it will be hard to stop solving problems. You won’t get the same kind of attention or validation. Because when problems are prevented, nobody knows. How many colds didn’t you get last year? How many times did your roof not leak, or the bridge you were driving on not collapse? But all of these things took some not inconsequential degree of effort – the first by your immune system, the second by your builder and the third by a whole slew of people: some who paid taxes, others who allocated them to public works instead of flashier projects, and still others who built and maintained the bridge.
If, in your heart of hearts, a smooth running transportation system is not more satisfying than charging on the scene in a cruiser with lights flashing to set up a detour and save folks from driving over a rotted out bridge, then the best you can hope for is a company that stays small enough that the problems don’t kill it, and you can still be the hero.
Skill – root cause analysis
The skill in problem prevention is to find and cure the root cause of the problem, not the most obvious symptom. Cash flow is a prime example. It’s common wisdom that the reason most companies die because they run out of cash. Well that’s like saying in the 1700′s the two main causes of death were consumption and heart failure. They figured if you didn’t die of consumption, then it’s a sure bet that your heart had stopped. Obviously medical science was in its infancy.
The knee-jerk reaction to cash flow problems (in start-ups anyway) is to raise more cash. This almost always prolongs the agony rather than cures it. If cash is tight because sales are too low the solutions are a whole lot different than if cash is tight because costs are too high, or collections are not efficient. More cash is rarely the ultimate solution to any of these.
Common Sense & Quick Fixes don’t usually work
Two quotes from http://www.isixsigma.com/library/content/c050516a.asp are enlightening. The emphasis is mine.
“Research has repeatedly proven that unwanted situations within organizations are about 95 percent related to process problems and only 5 percent related to personnel problems. Yet, most organizations spend far more time looking for culprits than causes and because of this misdirected effort, seldom really gain the benefit they could gain from understanding the foundation of the unwanted situation,” according to Gene Bellinger, who writes on the web site Systems-Thinking.org
Alexander Dunn, director of Assetivity Properties Ltd., in a paper posted on the Maintenance World web site, quotes a study which showed, “â€¦that, when trying to prevent unacceptable events from happening again, 10 percent of participants immediately sought to place blame, 26 percent immediately expressed an opinion of the causes and offered an opinion without investigating the problem, and only 20 percent of participants examined the problem in sufficient detail to be able to identify an effective solution.” From these statistics, its clear that effective problem-solving is far from common sense.
The 5 Why’s
One technique used to find the root cause is to ask why five times. Suppose your car won’t start because the battery is dead. Calling a tow truck to provide a jump start is solving the problem. But asking why five times might result in prevention.
You can see from the example that the key is asking the right questions. You might also note that five is not a magic number – the point is to keep asking why till you find a root cause and five is often enough for that. According to wikipedia, this technique was developed by Sakichi Toyoda.
[tags] CEO Skills, Problem solving, Small business, entrepreneur [/tags]