May 13, 2014

Topic: Management & Leadership

The power of ‘why?’

Four-year-old kids are famous for asking “why?” Some kids will continue to ask “why?” “why?” “why?” until eventually the parent exasperatedly exclaims, “Because I said so!” Well, as frustrating as it might be, that 4-year-old is on the right track. “Why?” is the key question a person needs to ask to learn and grow intellectually.

Last week I was interviewing a potential recruiter who talked about the key personality trait of their staff being curiosity. This intrigued me, as I believe this is also a key personality trait for a good commercial lender. Of course, I had to ask myself “why?” and it got me thinking about the power of “why?”

In my business, a commercial lender needs to fundamentally understand if a business will succeed, and curiosity and asking the question “why?” are key. For example, many businesses will optimistically project improved results in the future. Rather than just taking that projection at face value, there needs to be good rationale for why that would be the case, and the lender should ask “why?” And it shouldn’t stop there.

Say the answer to the first “why?” was improved gross profit margins. The lender then needs to ask why that will happen. The response to the second question might be something like, “They’ll be increasing prices.” Again, the lender should continue thinking and asking more questions such as, “Why didn’t they do it last year if it’s that simple? And why wouldn’t customers then go to another supplier?” Like the 4-year-old, the lender needs to continue to ask “why?” until he or she fully understands.

The importance of this in our business is twofold. Not only do you get the information necessary to make a good lending decision, you also gain business knowledge that can make you a better business advisor and enhance your ability to help clients succeed.

“Why?” is also the key to alignment and motivation of teams and employees. Understanding why your company exists — beyond the goal of making money — can help employees feel good about the company and its contribution to the greater community. If the employees continue to ask “why?” about their jobs, they can connect the dots to understand how their contributions help the company fulfill that purpose, and this alignment can be a powerful motivator for them to give their very best.

Process improvement and adding value to your organization also emanate from asking why. Asking something like, “Why do I send this form to the operations department?” is how you get started. As you think through the answers, you may realize there’s a way to automate the process, to send out a spreadsheet instead of a form, to eliminate some steps, etc., and ultimately gain efficiencies that benefit the organization and demonstrate your ability to add value.

Don’t just accept things the way they are; tap into your inner 4-year-old and ask “why?” Asking that question (or “how?” “what?” etc.) is the key to gaining knowledge, understanding purpose, and facilitating improvement.

Corey’s blogs are published by InBusiness. Check out ibmadison.com to read more.

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