In my opinion, repetitive problems require special attention. When problems have a habit of recurring, despite persistent attempts to resolve them, all efforts seem wasted and staff morale becomes a serious concern. Only a foolish interim manager would step in suggesting quick fixes, where caution and deeper analysis are obviously required. Of course it is through experience (or trial and error) that we learn, but I find that repetitive business problems are often linked to behavioral patterns of senior management.

A good example of this is the small company that repeatedly falls into cycles of severe cash flow problems.

Imagine you are the owner of a ‘successful’ recording studio business, you have a good stream of clients (mostly generated from adverts in music magazines, positive press articles on albums you recorded and support advertising from equipment suppliers).

Everything is going fine, except that your business is cyclical (customers tend not to want to record albums in the summer because they are off on tour or on holiday, not stuck in a dark and stuffy studio). Even so, if you spread your income and costs over 12 months, you should be able to end up with a reasonable profit from which you could live quite comfortably.

However you have four key weaknesses:

1. You get bored easily, especially with administration and tendering for new projects, you are eager to pay other people to do that work, in theory you could do yourself, but quite frankly can’t be bothered.
2. You have a deep fascination for studio recording equipment; you cannot resist buying the latest and most expensive gear (convincing yourself and those around you, that it is the fully equipped studio that makes you ‘so successful’).
3. You are bored with recording mundane local bands, you only want to record the best, so you are always looking for schemes to ‘enhance’ your business and to better fit in with your life style. (When you do not have artists that inspire you, you tend to spend more time at home, or take time off for holidays with the kids).
4. Personal image/appearance and self esteem are key drivers in your life. You are motivated by people praising you, especially those who are rich and famous. Consequently you take any kind of criticism very hard. Only the best will do for you. You like to spend money on clothes, cars and other accessories that separate you from your competitors.

The combination of the above four weaknesses can destroy a perfectly good business, especially if the key actor becomes ill or lazy. A good revenue stream can dry up very quickly. And if the business is supported by numerous bank loans, credit cards and other debts, it can fold in a matter of weeks or months, once the creditors realize what the real situation is. Some people manage to avoid impending bankruptcy by selling off tools and assets, which need to be replaced when new orders come in.

Consequently, you end up with a cycle that will create repetitive cash flow problems, because no sooner do you win more clients, or receive praise from a new customer, than you immediately feel good and invincible – thus justifying a new round of investments on borrowed money.

The repetitive cycle

This kind of cycle is just one of many but can easily be adapted to a whole array of other scenarios (for example, every time a company wins a large new deal they feel falsely confident enough to take on extra sales personnel etc).

To conclude, in my opinion, when taking decisions you need to consider the personalities of the dominant figures in the business and if you recognize repetitive patterns, then dealing with the core issue is the only way to solve the problem once and for all.

“The secret to successful problem solving begins with asking the right questions and then listening very closely to their answers” – Harley Lovegrove

The above article has been abridged from: ‘Making a Difference’ by Harley Lovegrove, published by Lannoo Campus & Academic Services