Look for the real solutions

Real advice comes from those who tell you want you need to hear, not what you want to hear

Suppose you wake up with a horrific headache. The pain is so bad, you decide to go to the doctors. They do a brain scan and several other tests and determine you have a brain tumor.

What would you do? Would you ask your bartender or your hairdresser for advice? There’s nothing wrong with these people, but they’re not qualified to advise you in such a situation. You need help to find a good brain surgeon and maybe an oncologist to help you survive and recover.

It sounds like common sense to seek advice from qualified experts, whether we need surgery, good places to invest our money, or whatever. Yet, all too often, that’s not what we do.

Let’s take a very public example with which we’re all familiar. We’re blessed with many talented entertainers. Their acting, singing, comic and/or musical skills can give us hours of pleasure. The better these people tend to be at their crafts, the more famous they become. People want to know what celebrities do and what it’s like to be one.

When people are hanging on your every word, it’s easy to become convinced what you say is important. When talking about your expertise, your opinions are qualified and relevant. When talking about anything else, your opinion is just another opinion. You could be at the very pinnacle of your genre, but that doesn’t qualify you to be a brain surgeon or give medical advice.

Sadly, this malaise is spreading everywhere. How many people go bankrupt listening to friends and buying things they can’t afford?

In the workplace, decisions properly made often make the difference between success and failure. Regardless of the industry, no business operates problem-free. And as these problems rear their ugly heads, we often don’t know what to do. Some of us just forge ahead hoping for the best. It doesn’t always work.

Others know what they don’t know and seek advice. But often we seek advice from those we enjoy or are most comfortable listening to. Unfortunately, these favorites may not have the answers we need, and worse, some people don’t know how to say, “I don’t know,” when they don’t. They give us their best guess, and we follow it.

This leads us into what I call trial-and-error management. Let’s try this — if it doesn’t work, we’ll try that. It’s a very exciting management system. Sometimes, we have no idea what we’ll be doing an hour or two from now. Unfortunately, it’s not very competitive if we’re competing with companies who know how to find the right solutions the first time around.

The real answers we need often come from the least likely, most undesirable sources — exactly the sources we don’t want to deal with.

It’s not just manufacturing processes that become so complicated they require this level of analysis. What could be more complicated than healthcare? Financial services, insurance, government agencies — in fact almost every one of any substantial size depends on processes that often run amok.

These can become desperate situations. Yet the solutions remain elusive unless we identify the real causes. When we don’t, the likelihood of solving the problems is probably better than that of winning the lottery, but not a whole lot more. It’s one of the reasons most “solutions” don’t work.

For instance, I know of one organization that has been experiencing a steady decline at an annual event. They recently decided to change the venue to solve the problem, yet the venue probably isn’t the cause. Even so, that’s a lot easier than addressing the real causes, but it won’t fix the attendance problem.

Sometimes we hire consultants, and they can be very effective. But here again, we need to find the right person or group. Sometimes you pay them well and their solutions don’t work, giving the rest of us a bad name.

Regardless of the industry, there’s no substitute for the real solutions. In each case, we want to speak to people who will tell us what we need to know, not what we want to hear.

Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or RonBourque3@gmail.com.

Categories: Business Advice