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15th Jun 2012
The Power Of Why
When working with clients I tend to use only five of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘honest serving men’, these being what, how, where, who and when. The word ‘why’ can leave people feeling defensive, however, WHY does have a power all of its own – ask any three year old.
Parent: “Put your toys away”
Parent: “Because its time for tea”
Parent: “Because I need to put the food on the table and the toys are in the way”
Child: “Why?” …
As each why is asked the parent is pushed more and more into the detail of the answer. There comes a point when for the sake of sanity they utter the words “Because I say so”.
Toyota however found that asking 5 whys in a row would often get to the root cause of any problem. This is a useful technique for your business if the question why is asked in a tone of curiosity rather than criticism. So let us assume that we have an unhappy customer because they didn’t receive a quote.
- Why didn’t Mr Barnes receive the quote?
- Employee: I didn’t know I needed to send it to them
- Why didn’t you think you needed to send it to them?
- Employee: I thought John, the sales guy, would send it
- Why did you think John would send it?
- Employee: Mr Barnes is John’s customer, so I thought he would want to follow up
- Why would John want to follow up?
- Employee: I thought John would want to check the quote and talk to Mr Barnes
- Why did you think John would want to check the quote?
- Employee: Often there is a discrepancy when we have done a quote and the sales guys suddenly realise what they forgot to tell us
From these 5 whys we can immediately see that there are problems in communication between different employees, that there is no sales process and no checklist of what should be on the quote. If we had stopped at the first why, we may only have uncovered miscommunication and telling the employee just to send the quote may have meant that incorrect quotes would be sent to customers – not something we would want to happen.
Asking why can uncover the assumptions that we make and the hidden text behind what people are saying - so, where would the 5 whys be helpful in your business?