Why the ‘WHY?’ Question is So Important
‘Why?’ is such a powerful one-word question – it really gets to the heart of the matter, especially when asked repeatedly…so why are some business leaders so scared of using this basic but important business tool?
When I was learning my trade (a long time ago now!) I was working as a development manager for a large Swiss corporate with offices and production facilities here in the UK. It was my job to create new and exciting ways to sell our products and services, which meant some ‘out of the box’ thinking was required. That meant I had to explain my ideas to my boss at the time – and this was my first real introduction to the ‘Why?’ Question used properly. At the point in the discussion where I present an action, he would ask, WHY? These were exhausting meetings, but it taught me to have all my reasoning, facts and figures to hand. When constructing my business development programs, I started predicting when the ‘WHY?’ Question would be asked. This led me to explaining the ‘WHY?’ before being asked making the document or presentation so much stronger.
Darkness Ensues Like a Cloak!
In simple terms, not asking the question ‘Why?’ leaves businesses and business leaders in the dark. “Why did we lose that business?” “Why are we recruiting this person?” Why are we at this price point?” “Why did we migrate from the plan?” Even tactical issues can be addressed such as, “Why did you miss that appointment?” “Why did we miss the deadline?” “Why did that equipment fail?”
So why is the question ‘why?’ not asked more often?
This is because some business leaders think it too aggressive and confrontational. Human nature is such that we don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable, put them on the spot, or embarrass them in front of others. But the price of not asking ‘Why?’ is at too great a cost in my opinion.
Bring back the ‘Why?’
Asking ‘why?’ is a very useful business tool. Not asking ‘why?’ is dangerous. It’s not a case of using some other technique that replaces the ‘why?’ because, to be clear, there isn’t one. And when we don’t ask ‘Why?’ we start making dangerous assumptions based on incomplete information that can lead us to make the wrong decision. Not asking ‘Why?’ leads us start creating facts that perhaps don’t exist. “Why did we lose that contract?” Answer, “I don’t know maybe it’s because we are too expensive, lets lower our pricing” Poor decision made via a poor process! Business processes that are not described accurately and insufficiently questioned will lead to an exaggeration of the facts leading to distorted and unhelpful processes. This can lead to whole departments or even companies following the wrong procedures.
How to ask ‘Why?’
As with most things in life, there is a right and a wrong way to ask ‘Why?’
We don’t need to appear aggressive because we can incorporate the ‘why’ into a nicer
Try something like, “we need to understand the reasons behind losing that contract”. “I’d really like to understand the benefits of appointing David to the role”. “Help me understand the key takeaways from the business plan” “What happened to that piece of equipment that caused its failure”.
The Why? Lesson
The moral of the story is that the next time you are in a meeting, writing a proposal, devising a plan, continually ask yourself the question, ‘Why?’.
It follows the ‘So what’ question in proposal writing.
You’ll remember that if you right a statement in a proposal and the question “so what?” makes sense, then you haven’t included the advantage and benefit statement. The same is true with the ‘Why?’ question. If you make a statement, the ‘why?’ question will expose the truth behind the statement.
And everyone needs the truth!