All Problems Are People Problems

All problems are people problemsRecently, I was visiting a prospective new client. We were discussing his challenges and how I could help him. At one point I said, “here’s the good news, all of these problems are fixable”. He responded with, “how is that possible? I have had these same problems for years and years”. Want to know what I said? “They are all fixable because they are people problems and with the right people everything is fixable.”

That statement may sound too simplistic, but in my experience, it’s true. Think about it. Your revenues are flat or sliding in the wrong direction. It’s poor leadership, in effective sales people, poor marketing or some combination of these — all are people problems. Turnover is a challenge. This could be ineffective leadership, unsuccessful hiring, poor on-boarding process…all people problems. And the list goes on.

As leaders, we want to look for a reason other than people as the cause of whatever ails the organization. It’s easier to say, “our competitors cut their prices and we are no longer competitive”. Or, “the organizational changes we’ve been through are causing people to be nervous and that’s the reason we have poor performance”. Or, “we don’t have the time to train people, so it’s impossible to ask them to perform well”. Or some other excuse you come up with to explain away that it’s really people problems.

Going back to the example about the competitor’s pricing…come on! That’s a people problem. Your sales team isn’t selling value, or they don’t know how to overcome the price objection, or they are attempting to sell to prospects that can’t afford you, or your product/service is twenty years old and there have been no updates since 2000. You get the point. These are all people problems at some level. Your sales team doesn’t know how to sell, whether it’s because no one is training them (leadership problem) or no one is mentoring them (leadership problem). If you are still selling the same product/service from 20 years ago with no updates or changes to keep you competitive in today’s marketplace, someone has dropped the ball at your company.

Let’s take the next example that relates to organizational change, causing a drop in performance by team members. Hog wash it’s not a people problem — of course it is. Leadership has not effectively communicated the changes and how it impacts them, so they aren’t nervous and upset. Or if performance starts to wane, leaders are ignoring it and aren’t having the necessary conversations about expectations. Someone missed, poorly communicated, or ignored a conversation that was needed and that means a people issue, not any other type of issue.

Why do we look for something other than people as the reason for our challenges? It’s because the other reasons give us an excuse, or maybe seem easier to resolve than people problems. I don’t know one manager who loves dealing with people problems. Yes, it’s part of the job description and it’s the part most managers want to avoid. There is more ambiguity and subjectivity with the people side than budgets or time lines, and most leaders are not trained to navigate the murky depths of dealing with people. So, it’s no big surprise that we would always like to find another cause for the challenges. And, guess what? There is no way around this…it’s ALWAYS about people.

Now that I have thoroughly depressed you as I have wiped away any belief you had that you didn’t have to address the people problem, what do you do about it? Truthfully, I don’t have an answer to this as it depends on so many factors. For example:

  • What is the nature of the problem? The way you would handle a revenue versus a turnover problem are not the same.
  • What level of leaders are in place? Seasoned leaders are not the same as newbies.
  • How do you mentor, coach, and guide everyone in the organization? Is there any official training or routine evaluations of staff?
  • How long has the problem existed?
  • Has something changed in the company recently? Change is difficult for many and the way to handle a change of leadership is different from a merger/acquisition.
  • Who is in charge of the area where the problem exists?
  • And the list goes on…

I can’t begin to help define a solution without knowing more about the problem, what has been done to this point to resolve, and a whole lot more. And neither can you. Don’t jump to conclusions and make assumptions that can lead you down an incorrect path. Take the time to define the problem in detail. For example: Turnover isn’t the problem. The problem might be that you are losing top talent you’d like to retain. Perhaps a certain department is having turnover or you are hiring people that can’t do the job or are the wrong cultural fit. Losing top talent could be a leadership issue, how you interview, or an on-boarding situation. You have to find this out before determining a course of action. Hiring people that can’t do the job or are a wrong cultural fit is an interviewing/hiring issue. But even this could be a poorly written job description, lack of clarity on what is really important for success, or those involved with interviewing and not being good at it.

I want to leave you with a few thoughts. First, whatever you think the problem is, it’s likely not the real problem. Take the time to dig deep and define the problem. It’s rarely what you think it is. Secondly, even though you want to blame something other than people as the reason for whatever you are facing, you can’t as all problems are people problems. The problem could even be you not leading effectively. Now a piece of good news. When you have the right people on board many, if not most, of the problems will get resolved. That all starts with hiring effectively and on-boarding well.

© 2017 Incedo Group, LLC

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