If a wing falls off a plane at 36,000 feet and the plane crashes, as an investigator you have two choices: You can assume the accident happened at 36,000 feet and tell the engineers to go tighten the wings of your other planes, or you can perform a root-cause analysis and ascertain that the accident actually happened 15 years ago during the manufacturing process of the bolt that failed 15 years later. Identifying and addressing the issue of faulty bolt production is far more likely to prevent the wings from falling off in the future than simply tightening up those faulty bolts.

80/20. I am a great believer of the Pareto principle (or 80/20 rule), which, when applied to root cause, would predict that 80% of problems are likely to be produced by 20% of the critical causes. So, be sure to identify and set in place actions and strategies to address these first.

The five whys. One simple way to identify root cause is to ask why five times: Why did that happen? Well, that happened because of this. Yes, but why did this happen? Well, this happened because of that. And why …

It’s simple, but effective. Asking why five times generally arrives at a pretty good root cause, which you can then address. And this is what we should do if we want a genuinely mature and ever-improving contingent workforce program.

Sometimes, addressing root cause is a longer-term strategy and needs investment. For example, contingent workers are turning down assignment offers. Upon doing a root cause analysis, you determine you need to work on your company’s contingent value proposition to encourage workers to want to join your organization. Or you are unable to find the workers with the skills sets you are looking for, and your analysis reveals the skills are too specialized and you need to invest in developing the talent that you need.

Focusing on corrective measures of root causes is, in the mid- to long-term, more cost-effective than simply treating the symptoms of a problem or event and hoping for better results. So, rather than applying Band-Aid-like plasters over the cracks within your program, only for them to reappear time and time again, program managers should implement root cause correction strategies carefully (focusing on return on investment), to ensure you have a solid foundation upon which to build and develop the maturity their contingent workforce program across all dimensions.