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 The Business Realist

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The  questions you ask determine the answers you get. Ask "why" as many times as needed to get to the root of the issue Ask all the other question words as well - who, what, when, where, and how. 

Why, why, why?

Posted  on 9/05/09

Man holding white flag on mountaintopAsking the right questions is more illuminating than having the right answers

Yet another example

A company that valued philanthropy and community service found that its employees were not participating as actively in volunteer events as it would like. This company was also undergoing a restructuring initiative and thought that active employee participation would help morale. The PR department initiated a series of team meetings where employees were invited to brainstorm solutions on how to improve employee volunteerism.

The solutions the teams came up with included a big PR campaign promoting the benefits of service and its value to the company, a reward and recognition program that included prizes, and a fun "pass the hat" program whereby every volunteer was given a hat that they would pass to someone else, obligating that person to volunteer. All of these were valid solutions, but what would have happened if they brainstormed on why employees weren't volunteering?

Possible causes could have been:

  • employees were too busy and stretched,   

  •  volunteering wasn't in their performance goals,    

  • spending time volunteering could make it seem like you weren't busy and your job could be at risk for elimination,   

  •  employees perceived that volunteering was really meant for low level or staff employees because they could be spared more readily    

  • your stressed-out team members would be mad at you for taking the time and leaving them with your workload.

Notice how the solutions to these issues are very different from the solutions the team came up with. How effective would a PR campaign be if employees feared loss of their jobs? What if volunteering became part of the performance plan? How much would that cost and how effective would that be? What if the leadership team role-modeled the volunteer mindset? 

Channel your inner a three-year-old and ask why, why, why, why, why?

The 5 Ys

The simplest method is to keep asking why, at least 5 times, until you can no longer get a new answer. Here's how it goes, and again, this is a real example.

Why are we shipping orders late?      Because we can’t meet our production schedule.

 Why can’t we meet our production schedule?      Because we are constantly changing it.

 Why do we change it?     To accommodate late orders from our customers.

Why do we have late orders?     Because many of our customers don’t know what their orders are by the order cut-off date.

Why do we have a cut-off date?     So we can create a production schedule and meet our shipping dates.  

This company eventually moved from a constantly changing monthly "frozen" schedule to a two-week rolling schedule.       Of course, who, what, where, when, and how are pretty good questions to ask, too, which brings us to the next topic of knowing what you don't know

Next article in this series  right arrow


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Featured Neologisms

Undue diligence   –
the endless process of collecting more information in order to avoid making a decision
Team vynamics   -
Group behavior wherein individuals at a meeting vie for dominance