July 2013
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TD Magazine

Why x 5: The Perfect Equation for Achieving Lasting Change

Monday, July 8, 2013

Before initiating your next organizational change effort, be sure to ask why—at least five times.

When starting any major change initiative, you need to ask some tough questions—and answer them honestly. Moe Glenner, organizational change expert and author of Selfish Altruism, recommends using the Five Why Method of Change to successfully dig through the obscurities of a problem.

Consider the following scenario: The sales division of a large company is struggling with achieving its revenue goals. To understand the real issue, leaders need to start by asking simple questions.

Q: Why are we losing money?

A: Because we don't have a cohesive sales and marketing effort.

Q: Why don't we have a cohesive sales effort?

A: We don't have the resources available.

Q: Why don't we have the resources?

A: We are on a tight budget that doesn't allow for them.

Q: Why are we on such a tight budget?


You get the idea. Although this example is overly simplistic, the process does work.

When the only answer to a why question is "I don't know," then you're ready to expose the real heart of the problem. "At this point, your focus should shift from digging through the dirt to better understanding all the issues involved," Glenner explains.

He advises leaders to keep in mind that many times the answer to a why question may prematurely drive them toward a potential solution. So be weary of attempting to solve the apparent problem with an answer to any of the questions.

"By making every effort to avoid answering with an implied solution, you are more likely to find the most significant factors affecting the organization," Glenner says.

Once you identify the real issue, it's time to repeat the Five Why Method of Change to uncover additional contributing elements. "The key is to keep digging until you uncover the root problem. If there remains an answer to a why question, then there is still buried treasure to find," says Glenner.

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently sources and authors content for TD Magazine and CTDO, as well as manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs. Contact her at [email protected]

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