The power of simply asking “WHY?”

Post by Anne Charbonneau, Managing Partner based in Amsterdam

Asking questions and being a good listener is key to ‘getting under the skin’ of brand and business issues and unlocking learning. And we usually do these things very well when starting a new job or moving into a new role. But somehow, after a while, we often stop asking ‘Why?’

I suggest that keeping your sense of inquisitiveness to delve into issues can be really helpful. Here, I suggest a simple but powerful technique to do this, illustrated with a brand growth challenge from a recent project.

1. Pick a problem

The international brand in question was suffering from a sales slowdown in a several important emerging markets. A key problem was a weak business with professional prescribers, even though targeting this audience was an essential part of the business model and a key sales channel in more developed markets.

2. Keep asking “Why?”

We put the problem at the top of a chart, and from there asked the team “Why is this happening?”

Three key reasons quickly came up, creating a first level of ‘root causes’. The trick is to then keep asking “Why?” for each root, to dig deeper. (Anyone with young children will recognize this behavior!)

The process naturally stops after two to three rounds of “Why?”, and you end up with a ‘roots system’ showing a range of explanations and reasons for an issue (below).

3. Identify actions

With a more complete picture of problem at hand, the team were better able to identify an effective action plan. We found it helpful to split actions into three ‘buckets’:

  • Engage the wider organization: the local team were focused on short-term sales goals, whereas brand prescribers were key to long term growth. There was a need to look revising sales targets to have a long term, prescriber-led element
  • Out of team control: one emerging market had mainly ‘self-prescription’ and so limited role for professional influencers, and changing this would take years and a lot of budget to change
  • Global team actions: there was a need to better bring to life the professional prescriber audience and their needs, to give the local team more confidence to approach them

In conclusion, to use a gardening metaphor, asking “Why?” enables you to dig below the surface of a ‘bad weed’ (the problem). Rather than just chopping at the leaves, a superficial solution, you can really get to the root causes of the problem and develop a more effective action plan.

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