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Business Fever

I don’t know how she does it. My wife has an uncanny ability to recognize and diagnose sickness in our kids before I even know there is an issue. She’ll make comments like “it always starts with a stomach-ache with him and then it turns into strep” or “she looks pale”. And, sure enough, with almost prophetic precision, the doctor confirms her diagnosis and they put together a plan for recovery.

I believe my wife’s diagnostic skill comes from two places. First, she is a mom, and I think moms were created with God-given intuition for their kids’ well-being. Beyond that, however, is her developed ability to recognize symptoms and connect them with root causes. This is a skill combining both knowledge and experience to the point where she can determine correctly what issue the symptom is referring to and how to correct it. Now, because she is a great mom, she initially works to address the symptoms to reduce pain and suffering – cartoons and popsicles seem to be surprisingly effective at this stage. But she also goes to work right away to address the root cause. The house is regularly Lysoled to eliminate germs, bedtimes are moved up beyond children’s comprehension, and medicine and nutrition are used to aid the body’s recovery at the source of the problem.

Organizations function in a similar way. Many of the issues we spend so much time and effort correcting are really symptomatic of deeper root causes. These causes are often common across the spectrum of organizations and building your knowledge base and experience in dealing with them correctly will greatly aid your ability to recognize symptoms and correct them at the source. Today we will look at three common symptoms that indicate your business may be sick and some possible diagnoses on where to look for the root cause.

Symptom #1: Constantly Dealing with the Same Core Issues

You see the same issue come across your desk every week. A new customer upset about the same thing that upset a customer last week. Or maybe the issues keep coming from the same department.

Possible diagnoses:

1. Inadequate or incorrect processes.

The great thing about bad patterns is that they can often be corrected with good patterns. Developing a process that deals with the core issues in the correct way each time can often eliminate a cycle of repeated problems. Find the solution and create a process that applies that same solution each time the issue occurs.

2. Lack of ownership to correct the problem.

“That’s not my job” is the bane of every business leaders’ existence. While we all want to believe everyone is eager to do whatever is necessary for the health of our organizations, experience tells us this is not the case. Make sure a specific individual is accountable for the success of each function of your organization.

Symptom #2: Losing your best people and keeping your…less than best.

Losing your best people is never a great experience. The cost to your organization is high and there is a chance you won’t be able to replace them with someone equal to or better than them. This is the cost of having great people. However, if you start to notice a pattern of your best people exiting your organization, it may be a symptom of deeper issues.

Possible diagnoses:

1. Lack of organizational identity.

The best people work for organizations whose values and purpose align with their own. These are the people that go above and beyond because they believe in why you are in business not just what you do in your business. If you haven’t defined the purpose of your organization’s existence, your organization cannot be anything more than a transactional opportunity to be traded when a better one comes along.

2. Unbalanced focus on underperforming people.

The temptation for many leaders is to focus on motivating their underperforming employees at the expense of challenging their top performers. The 80/20 rule definitely applies here. However, your top people won’t stay if they don’t see opportunity in your business. That opportunity could come in many different forms – promotions, professional development, significant projects, starting new business functions – but your best people will not stay if they aren’t challenged.

Symptom #3: Flat-lining Sales

Who ever has enough sales? However, there are times when it seems that sales are stuck in neutral no matter what pep talks you give the sales team or how many new lead lists you purchase.

Possible diagnoses:

1. Mass motivation syndrome.

Too often sales motivation is a one-size-fits-all approach. We read a book that blows our minds so we buy 10 more copies for the sales team – who prop up their computer monitors with them. The fact is, different people are motivated differently. Some will love that book and highlight through the whole thing but some people would cold-call like crazy for the promise of leaving early on Friday. It is the job of leadership to get to know their people and what inspires their best work each day.

2. Poor customer relationship management.

Your interaction with potential and current customers from first contact to sale follow-up is the most important work you will do. Missteps, mistakes, and miscommunication along the way will not only sour that relationship but will quickly turn off other prospective customers. Paying careful attention to each step and interaction of the customer relationship will pay dividends now and into the future.

The Cure?

As with any sickness there are two primary roads to recovery.

1. Self-medication.

There are more books and resources available today than at any time in history for the “self-medicating” leader. Many business organizations offer low-cost or free classes and education on business topics. Take advantage of these. Life-time learning is a mark of any good leader. A steady diet of new information is the vegetables and vitamins of healthy business leadership.

2. See the doctor.

Sometimes the sickness is beyond your expertise. Sometimes you want someone else to help you through it. Sometimes you just want someone to sit on the bathroom floor with you. In these cases it is worth the investment of time and money to seek out a mentor or business advisor (we know a good one) who can offer an outside perspective to help diagnose your issue and set you on the road to recovery. Oftentimes their focus is exclusively on understanding your organization in a way that you may not have time to as you seek to continue to provide your product or service to the world. In these cases, the partnership they can offer can help bring your business back to a clean bill of health in no time.

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