Growing up, one of my chores was to mow the yard. In the summer, our yard would break out in a sea of yellow dandelions. You can make dandelions disappear by simply mowing the yard, but within a few days – the yellow sea of flowers reappears. Just like some of your company’s most stubborn issues.
Solving Stubborn Business Problems
I was recently listening to a podcast where Horst Schulze, the man who defined the luxury hotel experience through his long tenure as President of The Ritz Carlton Hotels, was describing one of those stubborn issues that seemed to have a life of its own. He shared a story of one of the hotels he managed where half of all the customer complaints were for slow room service. Schulze called the department head responsible for room service and pounded the table to show how important the issue was. But people still complained as much as before. He then charged the kitchen staff to figure out why room service was slow. Each step was quick, except for the delivery. It often took the waiters 20 minutes to go from the kitchen to the room. They soon discovered that the houseman, who delivered linens to the maids, blocked the elevator doors with linen carts to expedite his linen deliveries. This effectively removed elevators from service just when they were needed. It turned out that there weren’t enough linens to stock the beds, plus laundry, plus fresh supply, so the house staff had taken to “stealing” from other floors. Upon asking why they only had two sets of sheets, Schulze was told that when the hotel opened, “management” (Schulze) decided to get rid of the third set of sheets in the interest of saving expenses. Schulze admits room service was slow because he made the decision to reduce the number of sheets. The obvious moral of the story is this: before discussing solutions, determine what the root cause is – otherwise, you’ll just put bandages on the symptoms. And bingo, we have a field of dandelions.
Killing the Dandelions in Your Business
How do you break the habit of jumping into discussing problems without first taking a step back to determine what is the root cause? In EOS®, we have an incredibly powerful issue-solving tool called IDS: Identify, Discuss and Solve. In this 3-step process, we focus intently on discovering the real issue. One technique for getting to the real issue is to keep asking the question, “Why” until we agree we’ve identified the root cause. Room service is slow! Why? The elevators lack capacity! Why? Because housekeeping is blocking the doors open while they exchange linens! Why? Because we only have two sets of sheets instead of three. Interestingly, when you apply the discipline to dig for the real issue before discussing, the solutions are often obvious and there is little need for discussion. Bottom Line: Never discuss an issue until you dig for the root cause, and everyone agrees that it’s the root cause. Then, and only then, begin your discussion about options and possible solutions.