Ask Why, Not Who


5 Why’s – not 1 Who!

Unlocking the value in your operation requires people. They are the resource in your organization that can solve problems. There are two reasons you need to focus your problem solving on “why” a problem occurred rather than “who” had the problem: first, engagement begins with “why” and second, your problem is not a “who.”

Engagement begins with “why”

The foundation for defining a problem starts with a standard. The problems in your organization can fall in three categories:  there is no standard (no expectation), the standard was not met or followed (expectation not met), or the standard is not ideal (expectation does not achieve desired outcome).

Engagement for solving problems starts with asking what the expectation was, whether it was followed or met, and whether it achieved the desired outcome. Understanding how the activity compares to the standard leads to the point of cause, then to a direct cause, and finally to a root cause that can be solved.

Engagement in solving the problem ends if the first question is “who did this?” For example, a clean room is a matter of an expectation.  Expectations can vary widely between what an adult and a 12-year old consider a clean room.  The first step in solving the problem of a messy room is setting the expectation (standard). Taking a picture of a clean room is a good visual for the standard. Then when a problem occurs, the room can be compared to the picture, asking whether it meets the expectation.

Your problem is not a “who”

Performance management systems are dependent on an expectation just like problem solving. A person’s roles and responsibilities need to be clearly defined and agreed upon by both the employer and the employee. The employer bears responsibility for ensuring this happens, and when it is missing, it falls in the category of no standard.

This is not to say poor performance should not be addressed. On the contrary, a clear expectation makes addressing poor performance easier and more direct.

Problems with operations are rarely a matter of poor performance. Most if not all people want to do a good job. Most people want to succeed. Often the systems we have created make it impossible or very hard.

For example, recycling an older style tube TV is mandatory in Pennsylvania. The expectation is you will not put your old TV in a landfill or throw it over a hillside in the woods. However, many recycling centers do not accept tube TV’s and those that do can charge as much as $75 to take them. Solving the problem of disposing of a tube TV in Pennsylvania cannot start with “who threw their TV over the hill?” There should be a penalty for throwing a TV over the hill, but that will not begin to solve the root cause of the problem. Asking why the TV was thrown over the hill is a much better start.

Finally, when someone starts to look at a problem by asking “who,” we have found that in most cases the person did not go to the point of cause (where the problem occurred). If they had, they would have seen the “why.”

Learn more in Patrick’s book, “Facilitating Effective Change,” available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

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