How to


Moboluwape Moradeyo Written by Moboluwape Moradeyo · 2 min read >

Managers are constantly called upon to make decisions to solve organisations’ problems.

One major challenge faced in making these decisions is the correct analysis of the problem as a wrong analysis will bring about a wrong decision.

Therefore, there is a need to critically assess the situation to determine what exactly the problem is.

Most of the time, managers access and analyse the symptoms and not problems.

For instance, if a team has low morale, it is a sign of a problem. Low morale does not happen by itself and cannot be resolved by itself. The underlying problem may be heavy overtime, boredom, poor management, pending wages, etc.

How to differentiate between Problems and Symptoms

Symptoms indicate that something is wrong, but you need to identify the root causes which is the problem. The most obviously troubling situations found in an organization can usually be identified as symptoms of underlying problems.  

To be a successful manager, you should not just attack symptoms you have to uncover the factors that cause the symptoms.

Always take note that a problem has a solution, whereas a symptom helps you to identify a problem.

Some typical examples of problems and their symptoms are listed below

  1. Symptom: Gross margins or profit margins are shrinking.

         Root cause: Customers’ perception and satisfaction of the products or services is declining

       2.   Symptom: Low morale

             Root cause: Lack of communication and understanding between the management and the staff

       3.   Symptom: Declined sales

             Root cause: Low-quality products, rise in competition, unskilled sales force or the combination these factors.

Problem framing

Another challenge in decision making is problem framing.

If the problem frame is faulty, it can lead to undesirable outcomes such as extending the problem, creating more problems and wasting resources among other things.

Therefore, framing the problem should be seen as a very important aspect of analysing the problem to arrive at a favourable decision.

Let us consider a scenario where a production manager notices a puddle of water on the production floor. The first cause of action is to get a mop and dry the floor.

However, looking at the situation critically, this is a symptom of a problem.

To get to know the problem, there will be a need to ask a series of “why” questions.  He would continue to ask why for each answer until he can no longer generate a logical response.

In the above scenario, the first question is, why is the water on the floor? He might discover that a pipe is leaking. Why is the pipe leaking? Because the water pressure is too high and also because the pressure valve is faulty.

Asking whys will enable the manager to get to the root cause of the problem and be able to make a good decision.

In this case, the problem was the faulty valve.

If the manager had purchased more mops to dry the production floor, he would have addressed only the symptom but not the problem as the problem will remain unresolved.

It is, therefore, very important to keep in mind that, to become a successful manager, you must develop the skills required in differentiating between symptoms and problems for great decision making.

Thank you for reading.


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