What problems are you facing?
In my consulting career of over 10 years now, I must have met thousands of people. When asked as to what I do, I tell them that I solve problems related to marketing and sales. They are quite excited on hearing this and want to start the engagement at the earliest. This is when I ask them to first share with me the problems that they are facing in marketing and sales.
Why is it difficult to identify problems?
In more than 90% of the cases, companies are unable to identify the exact problems. They may have valid reasons for the same. However, the point is it does not help them. For solving any problem, the first step is to clearly define it.
In many companies, the problem identification activity is assigned to a group of people.
The group is unable to reach an understanding on the problem areas that need to be addressed, resulting in a stalemate.
The business owner may be aware of the problems but is either not too sure or wants the team acknowledgement and buy-in to move ahead.
What is the solution?
One approach to identify genuine problems is to estimate the cost that the company is incurring because of the problem. Ensure that you consider both – the present and future cost. If the cost is well below your threshold, you may be able to ignore the problem for now. However, if it is high enough, add that problem to your list.
Do keep in mind that unsolved problems may have an impact beyond the monetary aspects. Things like career growth, team morale, culture, image etc. do matter in the long term.
Sometimes, the problems are not what they appear to be on the surface. There are deeper underlying problems. These may be the blind-spots for an organization. To get lasting results, these need to be addressed.
People who are closely involved in running the day-to-day business may look at the situation with a certain bias and may not be able to identify the problems clearly. This is when getting a third-party perspective is helpful. A person who can assess a situation, think clearly and objectively can be approached. It is important to work with someone who can be trusted and who has the best interests of the organization in mind.
A person without any bias and without vested interests would be the right choice for such an activity.
Ok. So, the problems have been identified and you agree with the findings of the expert. What next? The next step is to prioritize and select the right sequence for problem solving.
Let us look at how to do this.
Are you solving the RIGHT problem?
I have worked on a few projects where the client defined the problems. We solved the problems, and they got the desired results. However, after working on the said projects, the clients mentioned an entirely different problem which should have received priority over the problems assigned to us. The company would have benefitted much more if this problem was addressed first.
It is therefore important for the companies to determine whether they are solving the right problem.
In the previous paragraphs we looked at how to identify the problems. The next step is to prioritize. Against each problem, estimate the benefit that your company will have once that problem is resolved. The outcome that is desired. The problem that gives the highest benefit or outcome once solved, should be the first in the priority list. The problem with the next level of outcome should be second and so on.
While the above approach is usually recommended, there may be situations where we need to first address a problem that is 4th or 5th on the priority list. This could be due to certain business exigency that needs immediate attention. However, this is akin to firefighting and should be a rare instance.
A systematic approach towards problem solving, having the right perspective and proper planning is recommended. This will ensure that you have minimum instances of firefighting.
So, we have seen how to identify the problems, prioritize them and select the right ones for resolution. Hope this article helps you gain clarity on this important aspect that has a direct bearing on your business success.
Cheers and best wishes for your efforts!