Drop the 5-Whys (It may be killing safety investigations)

Sakichi Toyoda designed the 5-Whys as a component of problem-solving within Toyota Motor Corporation and it is now widely espoused within the EHS community for root cause analysis.

There are valid reasons behind the technique, but is it best for EHS investigations?

Ever asked someone why they did something (that ended poorly)? They immediately become defensive and attempt to validate, support, and defend their actions. And with the 5-Why technique…we’re supposed to inquire 4 more times?!

How can EHS pros counteract the defensive response?

Michael Bungay Stanier, author of “The Coaching Habit“, offers a suggestion. He writes that “why” is selfish…it tells the other person we can solve the problem, instead of recognizing the other may very well know more about the process.

Drop the why and replace with questions beginning with what.

“What was your thinking when you did that?”

“What was at the heart of that action/that decision?”

“What is the problem with the current process?”

What technique works for you?


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