Recently a friend of mine completed a pretty good-sized renovation of his basement.
It wasn’t a voluntary project; rather it was driven by some water issues he had down there. For months he had various contractors visit and offer their solutions, each of which had a very expensive price tag, and none of which would have solved the water issues.
And that’s because none of these well meaning contractors identified the source of the water. They tried—“It’s ground water leaking in through the slab,” “It’s a leak in the heating system,” “You have an underground spring”—but they never got it.
In the end, the homeowner found the source (a minor plumbing issue) and was able to remediate the problem once and for all, more quickly and cheaply.
It was a SYMPTOM of the problem. The problem was the plumbing. Fix the plumbing, the water goes away.
You see this in organizations all the time. People identify something that presents as a problem, but it’s really just a symptom of it. For instance, a client of mine came to me and said he a had problem with his website. It was difficult to maintain, it didn’t reflect the company’s values and no one was using it.
Fixing a website these days is pretty easy, and I could have done it. But the website wasn’t the problem. It was only a symptom—albeit a very public and visual symptom.
The problem, as it turned out, was a total lack of process and ownership over all communications channels.
- No editorial work-flow
- Wrong people in the wrong jobs
- Lack of expertise
- No shared mission/vision/goals
- No oversight
And the list goes on.
Guess what? Not only were there problems with the website, there were problems with direct mail pieces, email distribution, list management and print advertising. The staff was bickering because no one understood their role in the process. You get the idea.
Once we exposed the problem, and got everyone to agree that we had identified it—measured by significant and persistent head-nodding—we began a process to fix it. We will wind up addressing everything, rather than just the website.
Most problems have a solution, but you have to define the problem first. Don’t mistake a symptom for the disease.