No, I’m no channeling my inner Simon Sinek. But “Why” is a fundamental question we too seldom challenge ourselves with.

The concept of the “5 Why’s” appears to have originated in in the 1950’s-60’s with Sakichi Toyoda as a cornerstone of the Toyota Production System. It is a fundamental problem solving/diagnostic tool, focused on helping us understand root causes.

Why is this important?

We have a tendency to react to and act on symptoms of issues we face–within our organizations. Our customers do this, we do this as we look at performance issues in sales and our businesses.

We see, and are guilty of, reacting to symptoms all the time.

Prospects not responding to our calls or emails, do more!

Win rates not sufficient, increase discounts/incentives.

Not achieving business goals, raise quotas.

Not achieving business goals, fire the person, find someone new.

Retention/renewals dropping, do more to make customers happy.

Productivity not high enough, work harder, buy more tools.

We react to the symptoms, and they may disappear for a while, then they recur, we go through the same cycle again, reacting to symptoms, trying something new. We introduce new programs, new initiatives.

And then we try someone different–if the people aren’t producing results, we find new people.

And then we look at the bright shiny objects and miracle cures. “If it’s working for them, let’s try it…..” We copy what has been successful for others, hoping it will be successful for us.

Probing for root cause is tough work. It requires thoughtful analysis. It requires us to question our assumptions and premises. It requires us to diagnose and understand at a deep level. It requires us to understand what’s working, what’s not working, and why. It requires us to think of new approaches. It may require us to acknowledge our own failures–did we get the right people, did we coach them, did we provide the right support/systems/processes/tools, did we give them the time to be successful?

If we want to drive consistent high performance, we have to understand the root causes for failure. We have to leverage that to determine the appropriate paths forward.

It takes courage—courage to admit we may have done things wrong and we have to change. Courage to do the work to figure it out, not just react to the symptoms.

It takes commitment, we don’t solve complex problems overnight. We have to know that it will take time to produce results. Once we have determined the path forward, we have to give it the time to work. Having said that, we haven’t to understand the leading indicators of success. And when we go off course, we have to take corrective action, not abandoning what we believe to be right, but figuring out how to make it work.

This doesn’t mean we don’t change or adopt new strategies/practices. But we do so thoughtfully, not as a random reaction to things not working as we expect.