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The ‘5 Whys’

The ‘5 Whys’

The ‘5 whys’ is a great technique.  It helps you identify the root cause of blindspots and blocks in your client’s mind.   It helps you to understand how their mind operates and paves the way for some great coaching work.  So, what’s it all about?  You’ve got Toyota to thank for this one.

The ‘5 whys’ technique gets to the root of a problem

One of the first things I learnt as a financial coach was the principle of the ‘5 whys’.  It was a technique developed by Toyota’s founder, Sakichi Toyoda, who worked out that, on average, he had to ask his engineers 5 questions before he could establish the root cause of a problem.  Once the root cause had been identified, it was then much easier to address the symptoms.  Clever.

So, how does the ‘5 whys’ technique work?

Let’s look at how the ‘5 whys’ works in practice.  By the way, it doesn’t always have to be exactly ‘5’ (the following example gets to the root problem in 4….).

Given we’ve got Toyota to thank for this, let’s stick with cars for our example.  So imagine you’re a mechanic, working in a garage.  Your customer’s car battery is dead.

Question 1:  “Why is the car battery dead?”

Answer:          “Because the alternator is broken” (the alternator charges the battery…)

Question 2: “Why is the alternator not working?”

Answer:          “Because the alternator’s belt is broken…”

Question 3:  “Why is it broken?”

Answer:          “Well, it’s past it’s useful service life and just disintegrated over time…”

Question 4:  “Why did it break whilst still in use?”

Answer:          “The car wasn’t maintained according to the service schedule.”

So why is the car not starting?  Is it because the battery is dead?  Well, sort of.  But the real reason (the root cause) is the fact the owner hasn’t kept up their car’s servicing schedule.

Can’t you just replace the battery?

You might be wondering why the mechanic doesn’t just replace the battery.  Good question.  Replace the battery and the car will drive again.  But down the line, something else will go wrong, because the root cause was something else – the intermittent servicing.  Replacing the battery is just a temporary fix.

You need to work through the layers

It’s not enough to just replace the battery. What we really needed was that root cause.  And we only found the root cause by working our way through the layers.  If we don’t deal with the root cause, problems can reoccur – and sometimes in a different format.  Maybe next time it’ll be the wheel bearings, and we’ll assume it’s a different problem – but it’ll still be down to the fact that the car didn’t keep up its servicing schedule.  Fix the root problem and you’ll get fewer problems down the line.

It’s exactly the same with human beings

As human beings, we are exactly the same – especially when it comes to the way we think and feel about our money, our investments and our life.  The ‘5 whys’ technique adds value because, when you use it, you’re digging down and getting to the root of the problem.

If we don’t identify our clients’ blindspots, the mental blocks that prevent them from making sensible decisions, then it’s impossible to get them on board – or do the great coaching work that we know we need to do to help them live their best lives.  We need to dig down, find those root issues, solve them and reprogramme their way of thinking.

Be aware of orbit answers

Always be aware of orbit answers.  Orbit answers are the ones where your client deflects your question and answers something else (I’ve done a blog about this before) – your client may be aware that there’s a root problem there, but they are in denial.

So, when you try to drill down through the layers (the 5 whys) to explore and identify the root problem, they can see it coming!  What do they do?  They divert you off and start orbiting around your question – hoping to deflect you.  So keep going and drill down until you get to the root.

How do you know when you’ve got to the root issue?

Wondering how you know when you’ve finally dug down and got to the root issue?  It’s easy.  If you discover that by solving one issue you are also going to solve a whole load of other problems, it’s likely you’ve hit the root.

Wherever you are in your coaching career, the ‘5 whys’ is a great technique to teach you how your client’s mind operates.  Embrace this approach and you’ll quickly learn how to work through the layers of symptoms and deflections to get to the root problem – paving the way for some really great coaching.

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