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Be An Annoying 4-year-old


My children are older now, but I certainly remember the younger years - particularly the curiosity. That phase where the only word they seem to know is "why?" I remember being a good parent and taking the time to answer all their queries, until I realized there was a reason that my parents said "because I said so" - to keep from losing their mind!

I recommend that occasionally the manager play the role of the 4-year-old. Spend a lot of time asking why. It requires the person on the other end to really think things through and may point out practices or beliefs that are either outdated, misunderstood, or clearly wrong.

There is even a well known practice known as the 5 Why Method. This method started at Toyota and has been used widely in some areas. The point is that by asking "Why" enough times, you can drill down to the root cause, which makes fixing the problem more effective.

This came to mind because I recently was talking with someone in another profession. I was asking questions about why things were done a certain way and asking a lot of why questions. It became clear to me that while there were reasons for why things were done a certain way, the biggest reason was because that is how it has always been done. Now that we live in a COVID world, instead of adjusting, they just accepted that things weren't going to work. Even when I pointed out the problem with her answer to "why", it was met with a sign followed by "I know, but there are other things that make it complicated". I have no doubt there are, but I also know that her industry can't be nearly as complex as putting together cars.

Here is a best practice to try: in a team meeting, assign someone to be the "why" person. Don't let it get annoying, but have them keep questioning things until you get to the root cause. If you can't, then someone should be given a task to figure it out. You may even want to find someone not familiar with your department or industry to act as the foil.

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