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Telescope or a Microscope: How do you focus on a problem?

Posted August 18, 2010 11:07 PM by Dylan Miyake

Leadership at a non-profit or government agency is not always about high-level thinking and flying-by-wire; sometimes you need to get up close and personal with a pesky problem or uncooperative trends and measures. Leaders especially need to know how to identify the root cause of a problem. Go beyond the symptoms and surface appearances and find the deeper reasons for the problem – this is what we mean by "root cause analysis."Here are a few key elements of root cause analysis: Look at the big picture Whatever the problem – whether it's a challenge related to finances, motivation, education, or hiring & firing – you need to make sure you understand the full details. Ask questions. Get the perspectives of a number of people involved with the problem – don't fully accept the first story you hear. Ask "Five Whys" This basically means that in order to uncover the root cause of a problem, you need to ask "why" at least five times, in order to drill down deeper and discover the true causes of a problem that lie beneath the surface. For example – consider a non-profit organization that was having trouble meeting its fund raising goals. The first "why": "Why aren't we raising as much money this quarter as we did last quarter?" "Well, I think it's because we only sent two fund raising pamphlets this quarter." The second "why": "Why did we only send two fund raising requests?" "In this case, I think it's because our fund raising manager has been re-assigned to Member Relations two days a week." The third "why": "Why was she re-assigned?" "Because the program director decided that building member relationships was more valuable than direct fund raising appeals." The fourth "why": "Why did they make that decision?" "Because a lot of our members were giving us feedback that the fund raising appeals were too impersonal and too frequent – they wanted a more authentic connection with our organization." The fifth "why": "Why are we having trouble creating a more authentic connection with our members?" The answer to the fifth "why" is essential – this shows how the conversation (which was originally about money and fund raising appeals) actually needs to focus on something that is ultimately more essential to the organization – the authentic sense of connection and identity between the organization and the members it serves. If that sense of connection is there, the money will follow. And Remember- It's Not All Bad Root cause analysis is not just about examining what is going "wrong," it's about learning from what is going "right." In addition to troubleshooting and identifying problems, root cause analysis offers you the chance to find out what is going well within the organization, and then duplicating those successes elsewhere! Have You had problems with obscure root causes? If so, we would love to hear your story at the BSC Community Ps. A great video link is posted there too!

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