Benchmark Business Group

Why You Should Ask Why

December 6, 2016

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What? Who? How? When? Where? As you ask these questions, you are most likely requesting specifics about a person, place, or thing. However, when you ask "why" you are seeking reason, thought, and insight. "Why" is a powerful question that makes the recipient take a moment to articulate their perception of the question. At times it may make them uncomfortable, or dig deep into their minds for the answer. The answer to a "why" question is often subjective based on the person's experiences and values. 

As an example of how powerful "why" can be, try to recall your latest conversation with a toddler. Or more accurately, your bombardment of "why" questions from that toddler. Why?. .. Why?... Why?... Why?... You probably recall with every response you gave, they delivered right back "why?" It may have been an amusing conversation, and it may have been annoying. When a child keeps asking "why," they are focused on digging deeper for better understanding. And, in the process, forcing you to dig deeper into your thoughts for a response. 

Let's take this technique of asking "why" into your business. By asking "why" more often, and several times during a conversation, a business gains further insight into the situation. It also gets a more profound perspective from the exchange. 

Let's look at an example: an employee came to a business owner and said they missed a deadline and now this owner has to call the client to let them know delivery will be delayed. How does this business owner respond? Do they accept it and make the call? Do they talk to the employee on how important it is to keep deadlines? Or, do they get mad and blow up in anger? 

Take this same example, but instead, the business owner asks several "why'" questions. The employee came to the business owner and said they missed a deadline. Now, the owner asks, "Why was the deadline missed?" The employee explains that a certain part hasn't arrived to complete the order. With the first "why" question, the business owner already has a better understanding of the situation and where to go next, with another "why" question...
 

Business Owner: "Why didn't they deliver the part?"
 
Employee: "I called and they are back logged with all their customers for two weeks."

Business Owner: "Do you know why they are back logged?"

Employee: "No, I called a few times, but they didn't get back to me until this morning."

Business Owner: "That's strange, they are usually very responsive, do you know why they didn't call you back for several days?"

Employee: "Well, their plant is in Florida and there was that recent hurricane."

Business Owner: "Why don't we give them a call back and find out?"
 
This business owner-along with the employee-had a conference call with the vendor and found out the recent hurricane was the cause of the delay. The vendor apologized for the delay and explained their plan to get back on track.


From asking more of the "why" questions, this business owner dug down to the specific reason for the missed deadline and is better equipped to make that phone call to the client. Naturally, the client will be extremely interested in WHY their order is delayed, and the business owner can now confidently explain the missed deadline and come up with a solution that works for the client. She can also look into what other areas of the business are impacted from this vendor or even other vendors in the same area. She can now anticipate any other problems and take action to be in front of the situation. And, she can work with this employee to put together an alternative plan if it happens again and how to be proactive when a natural disaster occurs near a vendor.

We challenge you to take the toddler perspective and keep asking "why" within your business. Encourage your employees to do the same. When all of the people in your business are curious enough to ask "why" something did or didn't happen - why a process didn't get the desired result, or why sales have increased or decreased - your business will become collectively smarter. Armed with better insights, a business can become more flexible, more responsive to opportunities, and continuously improve. 

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