You’d Better Whys Up!

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why text on a pink surface

You’ve probably heard of the 5 Whys Method. It’s the exercise that has you ask 5 “Why” questions to help you get to the root cause of a problem.

We typically use this method of questioning for troubleshooting issues, quality improvement, or process analysis.

It goes something like this:

  • We are behind schedule with updating the training program again this week. Why?
  • Because we don’t have time to make the updates to the training program. Why?
  • Because it takes a long time for us to enter the HR data into the spreadsheets. Why?
  • Because each week, some of the data is either missing or incorrect. Why?
  • Because it is prone to human error because the entire process is manual entry from paper forms. Why?
  • Because we don’t have an integrated software system between the HR and Training Departments.

Now, looking at purchasing an integrated software system may seem like an obvious solution to an ongoing problem, but oftentimes we simply try to bandage the symptom (in this case, not enough time to perform a task).

But what we really want is to go deeper and see what is causing this loss of time.

Going through each stage of the 5 Whys reveals a new layer of hidden cause, until we finally get to the root of it all allowing us to make better decisions to implement lasting solutions.

And now we have it. Purchase a new integrated Learning Management System.

But I hear you, “Slow down, Mr. Shortcut Man, those things are super expensive. My boss is not going to go for this. And neither is their boss.”

I know. It won’t be easy, so let’s see if there’s a shortcut to producing a proper pitch so we can get that signature.

You’ve done the investigative work of getting to the bottom of things by implementing the 5 Whys Method. And you’ve devised a thoughtful and practical plan for action, but how will you sell this to your boss or your boss’s boss?

Let’s face it, just because you’ve got a great action plan, does not mean everyone or anyone is going to approve it, particularly when it likely involves increased time, talent, or treasure. And in this case, it requires all three.

While most of us are pretty good at forming action plans, we don’t often think about how to persuade our boss into supporting and advocating for our new plan. We think it is so obvious it needs to be done, that we just present our idea as if it is a no-brainer.

The problem is, you’re deep in the weeds and the details. You need to get back up to the surface. In fact, when you get there, you’re going to need a new ladder so you can see things from a different perspective, because you need Executive buy-in.

And the best shortcut for that is to Whys Up. This shortcut is just like the 5 Whys, except instead of going down the ladder to the root cause, you’re going up the ladder to the treetop so you can see the whole forest.

From this vantage point, you can see things from the CEO’s point of view. And that is critical if you want to get their interest and, more importantly, their signature.

So, just like before you’re going to ask “Why?” But this time at each rung of the ladder you specifically ask, “Why does this benefit the organization?”

This question forces you to think in a different way. You’re no longer concerned about what your solution does for you or even your team, but more broadly on the impact to the entire organization.

Once you have your answer to that question, ask again, “Why does this benefit the organization?”

Then ask again and again and again until you are thinking like a top executive.

So, here’s an example of how the Whys Up Method might look as you prepare your pitch for this high-ticket LMS you want so badly:

  • We need to purchase a new Learning Management System. Why does this benefit the organization?
  • It allows us to gain back 5-8 hours per week by automatically scheduling and tracking employee training. Why does this benefit the organization?
  • It allows the Training Department to get updated training out to staff more efficiently and effectively. Why does this benefit the organization? (Notice your thinking start to shift. You’re beginning to see things from your boss’s perspective.)
  • It reduces the time to get new managers and employees ready to serve and support customers. Why does this benefit the organization? (Now you’re thinking more like a Director or VP because you are considering the customer base.)
  • It reduces the number of lost customers who are dissatisfied or not served in a timely manner. Why does this benefit the organization?
  • We would make more money if we didn’t lose those customers.

Aha! The bottom line!

This is where you start your pitch! Because all Executives will listen to a pitch that starts with generating revenue or improving margins.

Of course, you could always just start with the bottom line in mind, but that eliminates the thinking process and leaves you vulnerable to the inevitable questions you’ll get during your pitch. You want to go through each rung of the ladder, so you have a way to talk through each step when you are asked to explain your reasoning.

So, how will you go 5 Whys down to get to the root cause of an issue? How will you use your root cause findings to build out that practical action plan? And how will you go 5 Whys Up to begin thinking like an Executive so you can get that signature?

Your Mindful Moment:

To build your plan, go 5 Whys down. To build your pitch, go 5 Whys up.

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