Are You Managing Symptoms or Solving Problems?

by Tom Grandy

You have a bad headache. What do you do? Probably search for the bottle of aspirin. But, ask yourself this:  Is your body really lacking aspirin? No, the aspirin treats the symptoms, not the cause. The aspirin simply manages the pain so you don’t feel it any more … but the underlying problem remains.

Commercials that advertise drugs promote the same thing. None “heal” the problem; they simply manage symptoms. Secondly, nearly all have side effects! “This product may cause bleeding, heart attack, stroke … or death.” In addition, sometimes the drugs’ side effects are actually worse than the original problem. The reality, however, is that many people would rather take a pill to manage the symptoms than do the work of making lifestyles changes in order to receive a cure. Do you want to be healed or do you want your symptoms managed?

What are you doing as an owner or manager? Are you managing symptoms or solving root problems?

If you are an owner or manager, you probably have lots of irons in the fire every day. When a problem arises, we all want the fastest solution possible so we can move on to the next fire. The reality is that, in the long run, it’s better to spend a bit more time, energy, and money today than to have to deal with the same problem again down the road.

One example of this principle is delegation. One of the most difficult things for most owners to do is to delegate duties and responsibilities to others. We feel like we are losing control if we are not intimately involved in everything. Also, it seems easier to simply do it ourselves than to spend time training someone else to do it. “After all, I can handle it in 30 minutes, and it will take me an hour or more to show Joe how to do it.” The results are obvious. If I do it myself, next time a similar situation arises I will be the one who has to take the time, again, to fix it. If I trained Joe how to handle it, I would not have to be involved when a similar situation comes up. The choice is yours.

Let’s look at another situation. Say things are busy and we need another service tech … today! We quickly hire a warm body to get the position filled ASAP. However, we later find out the tech is not all that skilled, his customer service skills are poor, and he ends up losing several long-time customers. Within a few weeks, or months, he either leaves or we fire him. What did that cost the company? Perhaps we really should have done an assessment on him before we hired him to see if he had the technical ability, could handle paperwork, and was willing to be a team player. Checking references would have been helpful, too, as doing a background check would have revealed he had three DWI’s over the past two years. The pill (hiring the first warm body we could find) seemed like a good idea at the time, but in the long run it caused a lot of damage.

How about this one. You just invested $5,000 in a new piece of equipment that should increase productivity and profitability. William is a sharp tech; we will let him use it. We hand him the manual and rush him out the door. He spends precious minutes skimming the manual, uses the equipment improperly, and bingo. He messes up the job and breaks our new piece of equipment. Maybe we should have sent William to that half-day training class.

Now let’s look at one last example. Sam has been with the company for 10 years and handles most of our sales. His close rate isn’t great, but he is a hard worker. As time goes on, you’re sure he will get better. After all, he is on 100% commission, so his income depends on it. Over the next few months Sam starts selling more jobs; however, the company seems to always be drawing from its line of credit to survive. You know you should be job costing Sam’s jobs, but that takes time … time you don’t have. However, you eventually decide to take the time to job cost a few of Sam’s jobs and you realize the company lost money on most of them! You discover Sam has been lowering the price for some time, and you discover that Sam’s sales began going up at the same time profitability began to fall. Sam, however, is doing ok. He is earning a commission on every job while the company is losing money.

Ignoring problems that we know in our heart need to be fixed doesn’t help anyone. The short, quick, answer is seldom the right one. Pay attention and make the hard decisions.

Let me suggest one other tip. Women seem to have a God-given ability to sense trouble before men do. I have been married 46+ years. Early in our marriage, my wife would come to me with a “feeling.” She would say, “Tom, I don’t feel comfortable with this situation or that.” My response was usually very straightforward — tell me what the problem is and I’ll solve it. Since it was a “feeling,” she couldn’t give me specifics, so I tended to ignore the situation only to have the problem she described pop up several weeks, or months, later. Why do I share that story? If your wife or the women in your company share a “feeling” about an employee, customer, or situation do yourself a favor and take the time to check it out. It might just save you a lot of time, energy and/or money.