In the Quality Management world, it is an accepted belief that people lack confidence in instructions for a given task when they don’t fully understand the value of or reason for the required actions. Therefore, it is important to build into our processes and instruction sets the explanations for the actions we are defining and the methods to confirm that those explanations are clearly understood.
It makes “why?” the single most useful word for improving performance.
A quote from George Bernard Shaw is often used in this context. It goes like this, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
This quote makes us aware of two things. First that it is all too easy to assume the act of speaking or directing is, in fact, equal to communicating – it’s not! Second, that we really need some level of feedback to ensure that our communications is more than an illusion. We need to ensure what is received in our message matches the intent of our message.
When we find people struggling to adhere to our process requirements and we have confirmed that the instruction set is clear, the resources needed are available, and the tasking is achievable, we will often find that purpose is the missing element. Sometimes we don’t explain the why of a process because it seems self-evident or we believe the training-and-education on the tasking is sufficient. Other times, we are so busy with the task of delivering instruction we fail to include sufficient time for meaningful explanation. Then, of course, there is the situation where purpose has been lost in the translation from one employee to the next. As one employee replaces another, meaningful information on tasks, duties and purpose is often inadvertently omitted.
There is yet another improvement benefit to the use of “why”. It can also help us identify and eliminate redundant tasks.
Most processes, particularly business processes, evolve on the basis of need versus resources. This means that we execute tasks and collect information based on previous business needs and the tools or processes that were available at the time. As new technology or methods are deployed, if we fail to ask “why?” we might continue to execute tasks that are no longer beneficial or useful, simply because we fail to deeply examine purpose.
The root cause for many software and other system change failures often points to the failure of management to deliver a reasonable explanation and the failure of employees to ask for one.
Make “why?” your friend; then sit back and watch your systems improve.