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365 Ways to Start Over: Day #26 – The “Five Whys” of Problem Solving – No Finger Pointing

Not sure what the problem is? It is simpler to figure out than you think. In coaching, we rarely ask a person the question “why” because it does little to move them forward. But if you are problem solving, it is a critical component of figuring out what the root cause of a problem is.

If you were working on a project that failed there is no point blaming and pointing figures. Look at it as an opportunity to analyze past processes for improvement. Problems are blessing in disguise. Ask the question “Why?” five times and see what new discovery unfolds.

Example: The problem is that you had scheduled the delivery of a product two weeks earlier than its arrival to customers. Why? Because it got to the mailhouse two weeks late. Why? Because it took longer than expected to get the mailing list? Why? Because Information Systems provided a list that was not segmented the way we needed it? Why? Because they did not have time to segment it? Why? Because it is not their job to do so. Solution: Someone internally needs to be able to manipulate spread sheets so that this does not happen again. A timeline needs to be created so that the department is aware if a scheduled mailing is off track while something can still be done to speed it up.

If you are puzzled about something that is bothering you personally the same “Five Whys” apply.

Example: The problem is that you seem to react defensively in the heat of the moment when you are confronted especially in an open forum as opposed to pausing and responding more professionally. Why? Because you feel threatened? Why? Because you are worried that you will look like you can’t do your job? Why? Because others have criticized you in the past and made you look and feel inadequate and alone? Why? Because they seemed to want to make you look and feel inadequate? Because it made them look and feel adequate. Solution: You feel threatened when criticized because in the past criticism was punitive and you ended up feeling inadequate and abandoned. Now being aware of this pattern, you will pause before responding and not take personally the criticism but more look for the opportunity to improve. You may ask to get back to them later after you have had a chance to analyze the situation. Start now!

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Mary Lee Gannon is the president of Gannon Group – an executive coaching and consulting firm that produces higher individual and organizational performance through Executive Leadership Coaching, Fundraising Coaching, Organizational Development, Board Retreats, Visioning, and Planning. Mary Lee’s personal turnaround came as a stay-at-home mother, with four children under seven-years-old, who endured a divorce that took she and the children from the country club life to public assistance from where within a short time she worked up to the level of CEO. Her book “Starting Over – 25 Rules for When You’ve Bottomed Out” is available in bookstores or at Amazon. Get her FREE ebook – “Grow Productivity – A Leader’s Toolbox” on her web site at www.StartingOverNow.com.