Managers get paid to make difficult decisions – about hiring, firing, promotions, salaries, resource deployment, operations, new products, new markets and more. A decision-maker’s worst enemy is lack of information.
Some incorrect decisions are made because important inputs to the decision were impossible to obtain. If you invest heavily in orange groves and a month later a once-in-a-century freeze kills the whole crop, that wasn’t a bad decision. It was bad luck.
But wrong decisions that happen because managers simply failed to uncover critical information? Those are much harder to forgive.
Maximizing your information
The problem is, it’s hard to know whether you have all the information you need prior to making a decision. So what can managers do to make sure they have as much information as possible before making a critical decision? The Five Whys Technique may help.
Developed by Toyota shortly after World War II, the Five Whys posits a simple solution: if you repeat the question “why” five times when attempting to gain information about a situation, the nature of the problem as well as its solution will become clear, often in what can be described as an “aha” moment.
The technique in action
How does it work? Well here’s a good example from the hiring world: an area where getting the right info is vital to avoiding the potentially high costs associated with hiring the wrong person.
Marie is interviewing Brad for a tech support job:
MARIE: I see you have 15 month gap in your resume. Why is that?
BRAD: I left Innovative Software to freelance as a consultant.
MARIE: Why did you leave Innovative?
BRAD: I didn’t agree with my boss.
MARIE: Why didn’t you agree with him?
BRAD: We had differing opinions about how to deal with customers.
MARIE: Why didn’t you agree?
BRAD: My boss said I was too technical with the clients.
MARIE: Why did he say that?
BRAD: I guess I wasn’t willing to “dumb it down” as much he wanted me to.
Voila. With just five questions (each beginning with ‘why,’ of course), Marie figured out that Brad might have problems communicating on the job, especially with customers. The Five Whys just saved her from making a potentially disastrous hire.
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