In the past few weeks I have been surrounded by a bunch of people all wanting to implement change projects. This, in itself, is not unusual because I am currently the Change Manager for an international client with its eyes set on improvement. However what is surprising me is that many of the young managers are not asking the most basic of questions. ‘Why’

Here’s the scenario, they start off by coming to me with a problem, typically something like this:
“Jane in Purchasing won’t take me seriously”
“And why is that?” I ask
“Because she’s too busy” is the reply.
(It’s at this point that I put on my two year old questioning head, simply repeating one word: Why?)
“And why is she too busy?”
“Because she’s got too much work”
“and Why has she got too much work?”
“Because she can’t say no, I guess”
“And why can she not say no?” I continue.

This line of questioning continues for a few more minutes until my enquirer begins to get irritated by the level of detail, but the result is something like this:

“OK, so you have a problem. You are going to Jane for help, knowing that she is overworked and stressed out. You know that she is someone that can not say no to management, that she is not as efficient as she could be and her workload simply makes it worse. You are getting frustrated because she will not set aside some time for you to consider seriously a proposal you want to make to her, the result of which she fears is going to give her even more work? And you are junior to her?” – And you want me to solve this?’

“Yes’ is his reply…

I think for a minute. The one thing I am missing is, what is the change being proposed? After some lengthy explanation, which nearly sends me to sleep, trying to follow the complexity of it, I interrupt and recommence with my ‘why’ questioning.

“But why do you want to improve the efficiency of the purchasing process?”
“Why do you want to speed up decision making?”
“Why do you want to etc.…”

The end result is that after the in depth questioning, my enquirer understands that the result of the proposed change is in fact that there could be a significant reduction in unnecessary company overhead costs and what’s more without too much risk and fuss. I then ask him who else in the organization would be interested in the savings, and then he understands what I have been driving at the whole time.

In change management it is essential to understand exactly what the objective is of a proposed change, not at the implementation level but at one level below increasing shareholder value. Once you know this, you simply need to use your findings as the angle to draw attention to your crusade.


Purchasing process improvement Objective (as announced to senior management):
‘I want to reduce 0,5MEUR unnecessary company expenditure off the overhead budget per year.’
This can be achieved by xyz…
Additional benefits are: improved company / supplier relationships, better deployment of employee resources, lower carbon emission footprint.

All this is not magic, it’s simply having the strength to ask the most important, yet, irritating question of all, ‘Why?’