Tuesday, October 10, 2017

First ask “why” … then do it 5 times!

Its interesting how many times I see senior executives (and maybe a few consultants like yours truly) feel like they need to have the answers … all of the answers … and they always have to be right.  As crazy as that sounds, think about your own situations.  Consider how many times you have been in front of a senior exec, a board member, or a highly paid consultant and you DIDN’T expect them to have all the answers.  No leadership team or single executive, nor a board member or board, nor a consulting practice or a single consultant can or ever will have all the right answers.  It’s unrealistic and frankly not appropriate.  What is key is that we need to expect and require those same senior executives, board members, and consultants to ASK the right questions all the time and that process starts, and always starts by asking “why?”

While it may seem simple enough, we often start with the two “wrong” questions if we even start with questions versus misplaced proclamations.  Typically, we start with “who” … (“who’s in charge?”, “who’s responsible for these results,?” “who is working with whom to get this mess fixed?”, and the list goes on.) If we don’t start with the “who” questions, we often go straight to the “how much” set of questions …( “how much are we behind plan,?” how much did this budget variance cost?,” etc.)    I want us to consider that we all need to first start by asking “why”, trying to understand the core issue at hand before we do anything else.  “Why has this situation happened?” or “why is this problem continuing to recur?” or why do you feel we aren’t making progress against our goals?” are all three good places to start.  Using “why” questions is a good way for everyone, senior execs, board members and consultants in particular, to frame the issue at hand and to use the discipline of “questions” to work to gain common alignment on the problem that is trying to be solved.  A HUGE step forward in all strategic work is to define the problem you are trying to solve and to have a common understanding of the problem at hand.

First asking “why” is key and in my experience it is pretty rare especially at senior levels.  While I clearly think it's a “required” first step, it is rarely “sufficient” to do the job at hand … thus my encouragement to then “ask why” 5 times!  While there is no magic specifically in the number 5, there has been a lot of work done in this approach, focusing on the best approach to get at the “root cause” of any issue and the “ask why 5 times” is a fundamental element of that approach.  Pioneered by Toyota in the 1950’s, this discipline/technique has been applied broadly across industries, companies and functions and is one of those fundamental business skills worth NEVER forgetting.  I learned this approach in early training classes at
The Coca-Cola Company in the early 90’s and I still refer back to them today.  The image above is a simple tool that helps the process and I have filled quite a number of flip-charts over the years with these “fishbone diagrams.”  To understand more of the approach, it’s background, and application, take a look at the following link,  https://open.buffer.com/5-whys-process/

Regardless of the intensity of the moment or the risks at stake, work hard to try to start with a question and hopefully that question begins with “why.”  If you can frame the situation with a “why” question, then gather the team to do some “digging” and work your way to keep going, “ask why 5 times” to get underneath the veneer of the problem at hand and have a deeper understanding and deeper alignment on the root cause of the problem that needs fixing!

Monday, October 2, 2017

A tearful morning and an inspiring walk

Waking up this morning, October 2, 2017 I was floored by the reports of the mass shooting last night in Las Vegas.   “Mass shooting”, “lone gunman,” fifty dead,” automatic weapon,” “innocent concert goers,” high capacity clips,” senseless violence,” and may other headlines filled the news this morning.  Filled with shock, anger and deep sadness I began my Monday with a week of work and travel ahead.  Telling Jennie, Marie, and Bryson (via text, he a sophomore at UCLA), that I loved them, I packed my bags and headed to the airport for a flight to Miami.

Once again I looked for a moment of solace at the Atlanta airport and headed straight to Concourse E and the MLK exhibit that includes a replica of the Nobel Peace Prize that Dr. King was awarded in 1963.  I often find my way to this specific spot and you can see my writings on it in previous blog essays.  This morning, after taking a moment at in front of the Nobel medal, I went into the little “interfaith chapel” behind the display.  Sitting quietly in a plastic folding chair, I said a few prayers for the victims of Las Vegas, prayers for their families and friends who are living a nightmare of tragedy today and more broadly prayers for our country.  Senseless death, violence against innocent strangers and escalating hatred and violence CANNOT be the legacy that we leave to our next generation nor a vision of a civilized society that we share with the world.

Sitting in that little while plastic folding chair I pulled up three passages/quotes that gave me strength this morning, each of which I want to share:

  The first being a major passage from Dr. King’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech: 

o   “I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind.  I refuse to accept despair as the final response to history.  I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him.  I refuse to accept the idea that man is the mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him.  I refuse to accept that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.”

 The second quote is from Gandhi:

o   “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love always won.  There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall.  Think of it – always.”

 The final inspiration is a passage from the old testament, Micah 6:8,

o   “ He has told you O Mortal, what is good and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your god.”

Leaving the little chapel on Concourse E, I decided to walk back to my gate on Concourse A (always good to get some steps in!!) and started thinking about my trip ahead.  In the walkway between Concourse B & A, there is an art installation that mimics a Georgian forest scene, with sculptured leaves, birds chirping, etc.  Not paying much attention this morning, I walked upon a young family who had stopped and the kids had begun “jumping in the raindrops” projected on the floor.  At first I was annoyed that my way forward was blocked but before I knew it two or three other kids, from another family “joined in” and all five or six of them played together in the “virtual rain.”  That moment of the kids playing together floored me and quire literally “stopped me in my tracks.”   Surrounded by the despair and senseless violence and hatred of the shooting in Las Vegas, maybe there was a sliver of hope and inspiration for humanity, exemplified in the children dancing in the “rain” between concourses at the Atlanta airport!