There’s at least one cause behind every discernible consequence. And probably more than that. A phrase I’m fond of: It’s never one thing!
When evaluating the cause of performance (sometimes referred to as After Action Assessment from its use in the military), you would do well to have a menu of many potential categories of cause to review.
Avoid the easy (and all too common) trap of blaming a failure experienced by an organization on an individual being incompetent (or otherwise defective). Underlying cause is almost always more complex than that.
No person operates in an organizational vacuum. Every employee performs within a complex organizational system. That’s true even in a two-person small business.
Understanding Failure’s Systemic Causes
If an individual fails an organization, the organization failed the individual. Systemically.
Likewise, simply pointing to outside forces (“the competition!” “the government!” “the lousy weather”) is equally self-deluding. Simplistic, convenient explanations mask the totality of the challenge and keep you from understanding what needs to be addressed, and taking the actions that would actually make your situation better.
A leader’s job is to understand how the shortfall happened and to create systems and processes so such errors do not happen again.
The task is to examine with open and fresh eyes the many factors that underlie the actions of a person who acts on behalf of an organization. As the diagram below suggests, there are no fewer than a dozen areas that should be considered when you set out to analyze the “root cause” of a performance shortfall or operational failure. (These 12 Prime Factors of Cause include: Conceptual, Strategic; Teleological, Goals; Structural, Organizational; Political, Social; Procedural, Process; Cultural; Physical; Financial; Historical; Ethical; Personal; and External influences on performance outcomes.)
Each of these dozen areas of cause creates effects affecting performance outcomes. All interact in the organizational system.
These twelve areas provide you with two vitally important resources.
1) A diagnostic to work through in assessing the contribution of each area to any system failure.
2) A rich agenda for performance improvement throughout your organization.
Every operational breakdown provides you with an exceptional opportunity to reassess and build-up your organizational systems. If you only fix what went wrong, you only get to zero.
However, if you embrace the opportunity to review your systems with fresh eyes, to see the interlocking parts as a whole, and to assess all the pieces without prejudice (pre-judgment), you stand to benefit, to make improvements, to move forward from every apparent setback.