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  • Writer's pictureJim M. Morgan

Communications Pro-Tip: The Power of Why


In addition to my work in all aspects of communications, I am also a certified quality practitioner within the Malcolm Baldrige Performance Excellence Framework. If you’re not familiar with the Baldrige approach, it’s designed to help organizations across a wide range of industries increase performance by holding themselves accountable to rigorous criteria within functional areas such as leadership, operations and customer service. In my experience, the logical, methodical approach behind Baldrige can also prove very helpful in communications work.

 

Much like Lean Six Sigma – which calls its sequential questioning approach “root cause analysis” – Baldrige encourages organizations to dig deep into not only what they do, but just as importantly, how and why they do it. Similarly, I’ve found that asking “why?” multiple times can be a tremendous help when preparing communications.

 

An illustration will help here. I was once approached by a CEO who asked me to put together a brief (five minutes or less) presentation about a new online expense reporting program. Fair enough – I’ve done dozens and dozens of similar presentations during the past two decades. From the CEO’s perspective, the main thing to get across to his internal audience was that this new program would launch in just two weeks, so personnel needed to set aside time for training between now and then.

 

On the face of it, this was a straightforward request, and easily accomplished. But as one of the personnel who would need to be trained to use this new system, I felt compelled to dig deeper. I wanted to understand the “why” behind this new system in order to effectively communicate its launch. The questioning went something like this:

 

Me: “Why are we moving to this new system?”

 

CEO: “The vendor says it will save employee time in submitting reports.”

 

Me: “Why is saving employee time important?”

 

CEO: “Because our sales are dipping.”

 

Me: “Why are our sales dipping?”

 

CEO: “Because the sales team is spending a lot of time on paperwork, including expense reports, and it’s eating into their productivity.”

 

Me: “Why do you think paperwork is the reason the sales team is not productive?”

 

CEO: “Because they said so on the last employee engagement survey.”

 

Okay, so lots of new info here. I had learned that the new system was being implemented in direct response to feedback from personnel who felt their ability to help the company meets its goals was being hampered by too much time spent on paperwork. Good to know!

 

In the final version of the presentation I drafted, the CEO spent very little time talking about the impending implementation of the system and the need for training. Instead, he spent most of his time talking about the fact that management takes employee feedback very seriously, and that in response to feedback that staff needed help with paperwork, this new system had been chosen as a means to help everyone achieve their goals.

 

That’s not only a much easier message to draft, it’s also a much more pleasing message to hear. To go from “you need to learn a new system” to “we heard your needs, and this system will help” is a communications win. It became possible by not being hesitant to ask multiple whys.

 

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