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“Get to the source of the issue”

“What is the root problem?”

“What is causing all this?”

We’ve all heard these phrases and others like them a thousand times, if you’re like me you probably don’t pay too much attention and instead provided some fluff to whoever threw them in your direction to appease them and leave you alone.

“Yeah yeah, enough already, I know what’s going on”

Well it transpires I didn’t, and by assuming I did, I missed all manner of interesting conversations, financial opportunities and time-saving solutions. I learnt the hard way that only when we get to the source can we begin to understand what is really going on, very few people bother to do this and those that do make a massive impact on everything they touch.

What am I talking about and who is Keith? Perhaps you know him? Perhaps by understanding Keith we can impact our personal life and performance at work….

Let us hear Keith’s story:

Keith wants a drill, why does he want a drill? To make a hole obviously….

If we end the conversation there what have we learnt? There is a chap called Keith and he wants to buy a drill because he needs to make a hole. If we lose interest and stop listening at this moment we miss out on a huge amount of information.

How do we get this further information? Simple enough:

Why does Keith need a hole? ….. To put up a curtain rail

Why does Keith need a curtain rail? ….. To stop the lights outside disrupting his sleep.

Why does disrupted sleep matter all of a sudden?…. Because Keith  is struggling to focus at work and his performance is being impacted.

Why is his performance important? ….. It transpires that Keith’s wife is pregnant and they’re expecting their first child.

Why has this had such a big impact on Keith? …. He feels that it is his responsibility to support his family and as such has become more focused on improving his performance at work to get a pay rise.

In 5 questions we have gone from knowing there is a chap called Keith looking at drills, to understanding Keith’s deepest belief; he feels a responsibility for supporting his family and ultimately being the breadwinner. This belief will impact everything that Keith does – not just at work but across his whole life. 

Keith’s context is that he feels financially responsible for looking after his family, this will impact every decision he makes from now on. Want to buy that second car? Actually we should be saving for the University fund. Fancy a big night out? I can’t, that money is for swimming lessons. And so on.

As Keith’s mates if we are unaware of this priority shift we might think he is being a bit dull at best. However, take the time to talk to him and we can begin to understand, relate and adjust our behaviour accordingly.

Most of us stroll through life not really paying attention to what is happening right in front of us, on average we spend 2 hours a day on social media. How many times have you been ‘talking’ to someone whilst idly flicking through Facebook or Instagram?

Not only is this incredibly rude but we are conditioning ourselves to stop listening and as such becoming ever more distant from those closest to us.

Do you enjoy lying in bed next to your partner? Are you getting intimate or playing Angry Birds whilst they comment on the plight of the bumblebee?

We have a better understanding of Keith’s personal behaviours, but what about at work? Why is Keith’s performance slipping?

Well it transpires that Keith runs the company’s sales team and reports to the Financial Director (FD). Recently revenue has dropped and the FD has come down on Keith like a ton of bricks demanding answers for the lacklustre sales performance.

Keith is being kept up by the Moulin Rouge style lighting of the boozer opposite and as such is not on peak performance at work. He is pissed off with his boss shouting at him every morning and dreams of beating him around the head with a spatula; fortunately for Keith the last spatula got broken at the Christmas party. The result of this is that Keith is beating up his team with ever increasing sales targets, the result of this is that absence from work is increasing and performance slips even further.

If nothing changes then it won’t be the FD being whipped with a spatula, it will be Keith getting the chop.

Enter context in the work environment and another analogy.

My heating system at home relies on a boiler pumping water around to make the radiators hot. Sometimes a radiator doesn’t get hot – you open the valve at the top to bleed it. Air comes out and it warms up.

What happens if air doesn’t come out? We can kick the radiator all we want and nothing will happen apart from losing a frost bitten toe. Instead we call an expert who examines the system and discovers a kink in one of the pipes which is stopping the water getting through. Once the pipe is replaced the radiator warms up and the problem is solved.

Lets go back to Keith at work, if he was on the ball and actually considered why the sales figures have dropped he could become more effective. On face value the sales team are underperforming but following further investigation we discover that:

  • A key supplier has changed and product quality has dropped.
  • The new delivery partner prefers to throw parcels through windows rather than hand carefully place them by the door.

The result?

More customers are receiving defective and broken products, they complain and demand a refund before turning around and buying from a competitor.

Unsurprisingly this impacts sales revenue and consequently the performance of Keith’s team, however, no-one had picked up on these problems and assumed that it was the sales function at fault. Through diagnosing the root cause Keith was able to highlight changes to other business processes and increase the performance of his team.

The result? A pay rise that we will ensure his first child is cared for and has a secure home to live in.

That is an awful lot more powerful than learning someone wants a drill to make a hole and leaving the conversation there.

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