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One Simple Technique to Stop the Same Old Problems From Coming Back

One Simple Technique to Stop the Same Old Problems From Coming Back

About a year ago, I found myself experiencing quite severe headaches. They were manageable thanks to painkillers, yet, of course they persisted. After a while they suddenly stopped, this was a relief but quite a surprise, until I realized that the stress I was experiencing was causing them. Once the stressful situation stopped, the headaches stopped.

I realized then, that the only sure fire way of resolving an issue, is to resolve or eliminate the root cause of the issue. Much like when you are weeding your garden, unless you remove the roots of the weeds, the weeds will just continue to re-grow.

Essentially, when a regularly occurring problem arises, you have to go through a causal analysis of the issue,[1] to identify the causes of the problem and treat that, not just the symptoms. When I was only using painkillers for my headache, I was only treating the symptoms, and so, the headaches continued.

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We tend to seek the easy way out when it comes to solving a problem.

As humans, we seem to prefer immediate satisfaction. When a problem arises we tend to go for the issue which will be resolved quickly. As such it is totally understandable why we tend to only treat the most obvious symptoms to the most obvious problems, then stop when we mistakenly think things are fine. We neglect probability[2] and become blind to the most obvious causes, going for the black and white answers and immediate resolutions, without knowing, or appreciating that things are never so clear cut.

Ultimately, when we only treat the symptom, the real issue remains untreated and gets worse. I was lucky that my headaches came from a stressful situation which resolved itself (and the headaches along with it). I merely thought that I was having headaches because…I was having headaches. Were my headaches due to a severe underlying issue, or were caused by continuing stress, then they would have only got worse.

In tolerating the issue, or only treating obvious symptoms, we become at risk of normalizing the issue. Willfully allowing it to continue as we are reluctant to apply the real effort to resolve the issue through and through.

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Finding the root cause can solve a problem once and for all.

Applying a root cause analysis isn’t just useful for resolving personal problems, but any recurring issue or problem that might arise, in any field. Much has been written about applying causal analysis’ in business, or in the workplace.

Identifying the source of a problem, and resolving it there is the only real way of making sure the problem goes away for good. But how do you identify the root cause of an issue?

In the 1970s James Reason, a cognitive psychologist called James Reason realized most human errors originated when the person making the error was working automatically, in a state of absent mindedness, and not paying true, due attention to their work.[3]

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With Reason’s findings understood he became an important innovator for patient safety in the healthcare industry, as now people were more aware of the possible causes of issues (human error) and thus could eliminate the issue from the root, perhaps by improving staff awareness and staff training so no errors born from absent mindedness could occur.

But how do you go through a causal analysis?

Approach the problem

When you intend to uncover the root cause of a problem, you need to approach the problem with three things in mind.[4]

  • What exactly has happened/is happening?
    For example: “I am having a headache”
  • Why did it happen?
    For example: “I am currently going through a lot of stress”
  • How can I stop this from happening again?
    For example: “I need to manage my stress levels better”

With careful consideration of these three things, you should be well on your way to resolving it forever.

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A root cause analysis follows the rule of cause and effect, and assumes things behind the scenes are often interlinked in interesting and surprising ways. As such, you may be surprised what may be the true cause of the problem, so you should be open minded and perhaps be prepared to dig.

Analyze the problem carefully

To be thorough in your causal analysis there are seven steps to follow:[5]

  1. Firstly the problem needs to be identified and studied in considerable detail. Ask yourself: what are the exact symptoms of the issue?
  2. Try to collect as much data and information about the issue. Consider if there is a genuine problem, consider how long that problem has persisted, and consider the impact.
    Under careful consideration, the problem’s cause may begin to be clearer. If the problem affects multiple people, talk to them to get as much information as you can.
  3. Try to identify the cause.
    This can be difficult, you need to go through the exact sequence of events that led to the problem, or leads to the problem occurring. If this problem has occurred multiple times, note any similarities in the events.
    Be aware of any underlining conditions which allow the issue to occur, and be aware of any other related problems which may help your analysis.It could be a good idea to break the issue down into smaller and smaller pieces into you have a clear picture of things. Or consider the cause and affect relationships which connect things.
  4. Once the root cause has been identified ask yourself why it exists, ask yourself why it occurred. You might find it worth analyzing the casual factor itself.
  5. Think about what can be done to the root cause. Try to think of possible solutions to it, and consider, through understanding the problem, what might occur if the root cause removed or changed.
    Under consideration you may come to the ideal solution.
  6. Implement the solution.
  7. Pay attention, and with luck, no more work is needed.
    But if the problem persists, return to the root cause and consider further solutions.

This all sounds incredibly complicated, but trust me, its not.

The trick is, to not go for the immediate resolution, but take time to reveal the solution.

Featured photo credit: Flaticon via stocksnap.io

Reference

[1] Changingminds: Causal Analysis
[2] Changingminds: Neglect of Probability Bias
[3] Bright Hub Project Management: Overviews of Different Root Cause Analysis Methods
[4] (Mind Tools: Root Cause Analysis
[5] Bright Hub Project Management: Overview of Root Cause Analysis Techniques

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Arthur Peirce

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Last Updated on September 30, 2020

Effective vs Efficient: What’s the Difference Regarding Productivity?

Effective vs Efficient: What’s the Difference Regarding Productivity?

When it comes to being effective vs efficient, there are a lot of similarities, and because of this, they’re often misused and misinterpreted, both in daily use and application.

Every business should look for new ways to improve employee effectiveness and efficiency to save time and energy in the long term. Just because a company or employee has one, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that the other is equally present.

Utilizing both an effective and efficient methodology in nearly any capacity of work and life will yield high levels of productivity, while a lack of it will lead to a lack of positive results.

Before we discuss the various nuances between the word effective and efficient and how they factor into productivity, let’s break things down with a definition of their terms.

Effective vs Efficient

Effective is defined as “producing a decided, decisive, or desired effect.” Meanwhile, the word “efficient ” is defined as “capable of producing desired results with little or no waste (as of time or materials).”[1]

A rather simple way of explaining the differences between the two would be to consider a light bulb. Say that your porch light burned out and you decided that you wanted to replace the incandescent light bulb outside with an LED one. Either light bulb would be effective in accomplishing the goal of providing you with light at night, but the LED one would use less energy and therefore be the more efficient choice.

Now, if you incorrectly set a timer for the light, and it was turned on throughout the entire day, then you would be wasting energy. While the bulb is still performing the task of creating light in an efficient manner, it’s on during the wrong time of day and therefore not effective.

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The effective way is focused on accomplishing the goal, while the efficient method is focused on the best way of accomplishing the goal.

Whether we’re talking about a method, employee, or business, the subject in question can be either effective or efficient, or, in rare instances, they can be both.

When it comes to effective vs efficient, the goal of achieving maximum productivity is going to be a combination where the subject is effective and as efficient as possible in doing so.

Effectiveness in Success and Productivity

Being effective vs efficient is all about doing something that brings about the desired intent or effect[2]. If a pest control company is hired to rid a building’s infestation, and they employ “method A” and successfully completed the job, they’ve been effective at achieving the task.

The task was performed correctly, to the extent that the pest control company did what they were hired to do. As for how efficient “method A” was in completing the task, that’s another story.

If the pest control company took longer than expected to complete the job and used more resources than needed, then their efficiency in completing the task wasn’t particularly good. The client may feel that even though the job was completed, the value in the service wasn’t up to par.

When assessing the effectiveness of any business strategy, it’s wise to ask certain questions before moving forward:

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  • Has a target solution to the problem been identified?
  • What is the ideal response time for achieving the goal?
  • Does the cost balance out with the benefit?

Looking at these questions, a leader should ask to what extent a method, tool, or resource meets the above criteria and achieve the desired effect. If the subject in question doesn’t hit any of these marks, then productivity will likely suffer.

Efficiency in Success and Productivity

Efficiency is going to account for the resources and materials used in relation to the value of achieving the desired effect. Money, people, inventory, and (perhaps most importantly) time, all factor into the equation.

When it comes to being effective vs efficient, efficiency can be measured in numerous ways[3]. In general, the business that uses fewer materials or that is able to save time is going to be more efficient and have an advantage over the competition. This is assuming that they’re also effective, of course.

Consider a sales team for example. Let’s say that a company’s sales team is tasked with making 100 calls a week and that the members of that team are hitting their goal each week without any struggle.

The members on the sales team are effective in hitting their goal. However, the question of efficiency comes into play when management looks at how many of those calls turn into solid connections and closed deals.

If less than 10 percent of those calls generate a connection, the productivity is relatively low because the efficiency is not adequately balancing out with the effect. Management can either keep the same strategy or take a new approach.

Perhaps they break up their sales team with certain members handling different parts of the sales process, or they explore a better way of connecting with their customers through a communications company.

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The goal is ultimately going to be finding the right balance, where they’re being efficient with the resources they have to maximize their sales goals without stretching themselves too thin. Finding this balance is often easier said than done, but it’s incredibly important for any business that is going to thrive.

Combining Efficiency and Effectiveness to Maximize Productivity

Being effective vs efficient works best if both are pulled together for the best results.

If a business is ineffective in accomplishing its overall goal, and the customer doesn’t feel that the service is equated with the cost, then efficiency becomes largely irrelevant. The business may be speedy and use minimal resources, but they struggle to be effective. This may put them at risk of going under.

It’s for this reason that it’s best to shoot for being effective first, and then work on bringing efficiency into practice.

Improving productivity starts with taking the initiative to look at how effective a company, employee, or method is through performance reviews. Leaders should make a point to regularly examine performance at all levels on a whole, and take into account the results that are being generated.

Businesses and employees often succumb to inefficiency because they don’t look for a better way, or they lack the proper tools to be effective in the most efficient manner possible.

Similar to improving a manager or employee’s level of effectiveness, regularly measuring the resources needed to obtain the desired effect will ensure that efficiency is being accounted for. This involves everything from keeping track of inventory and expenses, to how communication is handled within an organization.

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By putting in place a baseline value for key metrics and checking them once changes have been made, a company will have a much better idea of the results they’re generating.

It’s no doubt a step-by-step process. By making concentrated efforts, weakness can be identified and rectified sooner rather than later when the damage is already done.

Bottom Line

Understanding the differences between being effective vs efficient is key when it comes to maximizing productivity. It’s simply working smart so that the intended results are achieved in the best way possible. Finding the optimal balance should be the ultimate goal for employees and businesses:

  • Take the steps that result in meeting the solution.
  • Review the process and figure out how to do it better.
  • Repeat the process with what has been learned in a more efficient manner.

And just like that, effective and efficient productivity is maximized.

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Featured photo credit: Tim van der Kuip via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Merriam-Webster: effective and efficient
[2] Mind Tools: Being Effective at Work
[3] Inc.: 8 Things Really Efficient People Do

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