Category Archives: Business Liason

5 Practical Steps For Drowning Your Problems

There’s an old saying that contains a great deal of wisdom:

When problem solving, don’t just put out the fire – find the guy with the match!

Another saying admonishes us to make sure that we solve problems completely. It simply says:

Hold every problem under water until it drowns!

Learning Effective Problem Solving

Both of these statements are aimed at communicating one thing to those of us who are in the problem solving business – and that is that far too often, problems are never solved because people are addressing the symptoms instead of identifying and killing the real root cause.

My forty plus years of experience as both a technical and business problem solver have taught me some powerful lessons. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned when it comes to effective problem solving.

  1. Most of the time, the root of the problem is deeper than you think. Just like a pesky dandelion in your yard, the flower (symptom) waves in the wind, but the root of the plant (the real cause) is hiding deep in the ground. You can chop the top off all you want, but until you extract or kill the root, the plant (problem) is going to keep coming back.
  2. Be patient. Taking the time to think things through, and being careful not to overreact, is important in the problem solving process. Cool, logical, analytical heads always prevail.
  3. Listen to the process. Every business process has a story to tell if you listen closely. Observations, data collection and analysis, and a healthy dose of common sense can be integrated to create a picture of what is going on. Just as a doctor uses the skill of observation, combined with information in the form of test results, to diagnose what is wrong with a patient, so must you combine all of the information you can gather to understand the problem with which you are dealing.
  4. Test your theories. The ultimate test in solving a problem is not “did it go away.” Where the rubber meets the road is in answering the question, “Can you turn it on and off?” Being able to turn a problem on and off means that you have identified the causative factors that, under the right conditions, allow the problem to manifest itself.
  5. Verify effectiveness of your solutions. When you finally put corrective actions in place, always monitor the process for a period if time to make sure that the problem never rears its ugly head again.

Need help with problem solving? Give us a call at 203.599.1467, or email us at We’re here to help!


©2014 by Gary L. Smith and Optimum Performance Technologies, LLC ( All rights reserved.

A Different Perspective On Your Business Competition

“Know your enemy” is a famous phrase from Sun Tzu‘s sixth-century book, The Art of War. The exact quotation is: “If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”

When one is engaged in real warfare, the words above may be very valid.  However, I think we all need to take stock and ask ourselves how it applies to our business lives.

Evaluating Your Business Competition

A number of years ago, I was running a manufacturing operation for a Connecticut based company. One of our primary competitors was based in Florida, and I knew the company well. The president of our company approached me one day and asked me for my thoughts on a proposal he was considering. He had visited the area where our Florida competitor was located and was considering purchasing a facility nearby.

Our business competition was having some financial difficulty, and the president’s logic was that if he purchased a facility in the area and hired some of the competitor’s key employees, we might be able to literally “kill the competition” by putting them out of business.  We could then purchase the competitor’s facility and assets for pennies on the dollar and assimilate their customer base into ours. It would be a tremendous win for us.

Healthy Business Competition Means Growth

When he asked me what I thought of his idea, I told him that I thought it was the wrong way to go.  My attitude has always been that I want to beat the competition – but I want to do it fair and square.  If I can win by producing a better product, more cost effectively, and in less time, I am all for that.  But it never made sense to me to kick the competition when they are down – and I told the president that was what he was about to do.

When he asked what I would do with this “opportunity,” I told him that I would schedule a meeting with the competitor and put my cards on the table.  I would explain to them that I was aware of the challenges they were facing, but that I had no vested interest in seeing them go out of business.  I would then begin to explore synergies between our businesses that might lead to a sharing of technology and resources – and that might create a win-win for everyone involved.

Business Competition Is A Good Thing

Many organizations look at business competition as being an inherently bad thing.  I think it is tremendously positive for the following reasons:

  • Being in a market that has competition is usually an indicator that there are plenty of opportunities and customers.
  • Getting involved in an established market with competition is almost always better and more cost effective than trying to create a new market.
  • Business Competition keeps you on your toes.  It’s the juice that powers innovation, ongoing improvement, cost reduction, and improved speed to market.

Take the time to re-evaluate your business competition – and to be thankful for the markets in which you have the opportunity to effectively compete and win business.


©2014 by Gary L. Smith and Optimum Performance Technologies, LLC (  All rights reserved.

Systems for Solving Problems

In his book, One Page Management, Riaz Khadem states:

If You Don’t Know What’s Wrong, You Can’t Fix It

This statement is particularly true when it comes to business management, project management, and lean manufacturing and other lean activities.

As if in response to this statement, Bob Lorber, author of Putting The One Minute Manager To Work, suggests the need for organizations to develop five effective systems:

1. Accountability System: Everyone must be clear on what they are being asked to do and be accountable for doing it.

2. Data System: Performance information must be gathered to determine how well people are doing.

3. Feedback System: Once the performance information has been gathered, feedback must be given to people so that they can either continue to perform well or redirect their efforts to get performance back on track.

4. Recognition System: Good performance must make a difference. A recognition system based on performance is a must in high performance organizations.

5. Training System: If people do not have the skills to perform well, they must be trained. High expectations without skills will only lead to frustration and poor performance.

Developing accountability, gathering solid performance information, providing feedback and recognition, and using training to improve both skills and performance – is there a more powerful formula for success in the world?

Leadership and Responsibility

I am not a political businessman. In fact, I abhor politics in the business environment because it breeds distrust and forces people to focus on covering their behinds instead of doing their jobs. There is nothing positive that I can think of that comes out of politics in the workplace.

An Important Leadership Skill Is Accepting Responsibility

Having said that, I also abhor leaders who, for political reasons, refuse to accept responsibility for their organizations. A case in point, unfortunately, is the current President of the United States – Barack Obama. Because I don’t know him personally, I cannot say what his motivations are. However, as a seasoned business leader, I can clearly and confidently say that he is not leading the team that he chose to run the government. Why? Consider the following:

• He claims to be running the most transparent government in history, yet few people understand what he is doing or why.
• He never seems to know when anything of significance is happening.

o He was not aware of the understaffed security in Benghazi.
o He did not know that the IRS was targeting conservatives in their audits, or that they were deliberately delaying the approval of organizations requesting non-profit status.
o He had no idea that the websites for the healthcare signups were not ready and had not been thoroughly tested.

In this blog post, I am not concerned about President Obama’s political motivations. What I am concerned about is his lack of leadership. Not only has he not accepted responsibility for those making bad decisions in his organizations, but he has not taken steps to discipline or remove any of the offenders. In addition, he has allowed everyone, including his press secretary, to make all manner of excuses and to deflect the blame for all of these situations on someone or something else.

Organizational Leadership Start With The Leader

One of the major lessons every leader learns is to accept responsibility. As a business owner, if someone screws up in my organization, IT’S MY FAULT!! Whether I knew about the screw up or not has nothing to do with it – and it does not absolve me from being ultimately responsible for what happened. In every sense of the word – THE BUCK STOPS WITH ME!

Accepting responsibility involves a number of visible, actionable items:

1. It means that I must accept responsibility, both publicly and privately.
2. It means that I must stop the negative action that is happening and deal with those involved.
3. It means that I must take measures to insure that the negative action never happens again.
4. It means that I must clearly communicate what I have done, both publicly and privately, and ask for the forgiveness of those whose lives have been impacted.
5. It means that I must clearly let the other leaders in my organization know that this type of behavior is not acceptable and encourage them to communicate that message to everyone in their organizations.

That is what real leaders do. They own their problems and they solve them. They are men and women of honesty, integrity, and action.

How do you lead your organization? How you answer this question will, in many respects, determine just how far you will go in life.

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