Root Cause

The Correct Problem

Innovation, Leadership Comments Off on The Correct Problem

Are you solving symptoms?

To make a difference you must address the cause of the problem.

Real life teaches us a lot. I’m writing this in the aftermath of the Orlando murders. Problems like how to stop people from killing other people are complex. So complex that we tend to jump to solving symptoms.

The same holds true with our business problems. They are complex. It’s difficult to get to the root cause.

For example, is employee engagement down because you are hiring the wrong people or is it because you are not trustworthy as a leader? Those are two very different directions to pursue.


We can always benefit from outside insight on problems especially from people who have previously lived through a similar problem. There are only so many truths out there. However, the circumstances are always unique, especially if people are involved.

Be careful of the popular. Even though a game room is part of a culture you admire, will getting a ping pong table solve a real problem for you?

Root Cause

I’m sure you’re familiar with Root Cause Analysis. Let us know if you’d like a copy of the Personal Brilliance Problem Solving method. Click here.

The 5 Why’s – Asking why five times at least to go deeply into the cause of a problem is a very useful tool. So often we’re working on the wrong problem or expending effort on a symptom rather than an actual causal factor.

An example problem: Complaints are being received about customer support for a product.

Why 1: Why are complaints being received about customer support for a product? Answer: The support people don’t know the answer to common questions or give out incorrect information about the software.

Why 2: Why don’t they know the answers or give out incorrect info? Answer: The support manual doesn’t have correct answers to common questions.

Why 3: Why is the support manual incorrect? Answer: The manual is not updated regularly.

Why 4: Why is the manual not updated? Answer: Changes in the software aren’t communicated to the person responsible for the manual.

Why 5: Why aren’t the updates communicated? Answer: There isn’t a process for sharing any software changes to the support team for inclusion in the manual. Our root cause.

Now that we got to the root cause we can do something. If we stopped at the answer to Why #1 we would be calling HR to replace bad support people. The wrong thing.

Beyond the Surface

Doing something like Root Cause Analysis takes effort – mentally as well as time. It’s not easy to do. Digging beyond the surface though is the way to get to the real problem and to make a difference.

Many times the reason we don’t get to the root cause is because it highlights shortcomings or can ruffle a person’s feelings. We might be tackling long-standing traditions. It’s important to get past that.


Each solution has levels of ramification. Therefore it takes courage to actually solve a problem. It’s easier to put band-aids on symptoms. It appears as if action is taking place. Conversely effectiveness is undermined. People know real action and can recognize fluff.

The number one thing a leader can do is to always push to the cause of a problem before getting wrapped up in the solutions. Ask the questions. Be comfortable that we’re working on the right things. Often your team member is thinking about the problem a mile a minute. Force a discipline for thinking through the problem vs. simply thinking about the problem.


Jim Canterucci

I don't know everything. But I want to. The focus of our firm, Transition Management Advisors, is to develop leadership capabilities to create a championship culture, generate innovation, and successfully lead the resulting changes.

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On June 15, 2016
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