Theory “Why” Management II

Written by Joe Driscoll

November 27, 2009

Most managers are familiar with the “alphabet” theories of management. It started with Theory X and Theory Y, soon there was Theory Z and the Theory of the Rising Sun. Now, hardly a year goes by without another letter of the alphabet being canonized as the theory of the year.

Each of the theories is an attempt to explain human behavior. Once explained, it can be understood the thinking goes. Once understood, perhaps management action can be initiated to enhance performance.

Each of the theories presents an interesting explanation which contributes to understanding of organizational behavior, but all are flawed in their attempt to present a universal model for managerial success.

While theories of explanation are interesting, management needs tools of application. What can be done to improve the performance of this organization now!

Enter Theory “Why”, named in honor of one of the most powerful words in a manager’s vocabulary. Theory “Why” is action oriented, not explanation oriented. Theory “Why” is a powerful management tool that can be applied in all areas of management, but particularly in three critical ones, staffing, operating, and controlling.

Management has been defined as “getting things done through people”. There is then, no more important management task than staffing your organization with good people.

Interviewing is universally used in the staffing process. While most managers have experienced numerous interviews, few are experienced interviewers. There are many techniques that you can acquire to improve your interviewing skills. However, remembering to ask the question, “Why?”, is one of the most powerful.

Typical candidates for a job have strikingly similar answers to most questions. Asking “Why?” an applicant has a particular objective or made his last career move will begin to scratch the surface and reveal the substance.

In an interview it is the responsibility of the manager to determine the reasons a person is looking for the type of job that is available and to determine whether the applicant will be able to satisfy the needs of the organization, and if he or she will be happy will doing so. No other tool will be as helpful and revealing to the interviewer as the question, “Why?”.

When it comes to operations, people perform better when they understand “why” they are doing what they are doing. The manner in which assignments are made will have a significant impact on the manner in which they are carried out. The logic supporting “Theory Why” management is simple, but sound.

Compare the impact of the following. The sales manger instructs his secretary, “I need this letter and quotation typed by 5 o’clock.” With little extra effort he might add, “I have to leave to catch a plane at five and if we get this quote in tonight’s mail we have a chance at getting a big new customer.” The little effort taken to add the “why” will most likely improve the chances of getting the job done on time as well as enhancing the mutual respect in the long term relationship.

“Theory Why” management requires little effort to implement, costs practically nothing, yet will frequently pay handsome dividends.

Theory Why is an important tool that can be applied to the control function of management. In order to improve or maintain performance, it is necessary to understand it. When sales exceed expectations, you must determine the reasons why. It is equally important when results are better than anticipated.

Don’t accept results at face value. Ask, Why? When you understand the cause and effect relationships underlying a particular result, you are in a position to build on a strength or to address a weakness.

While the end result of business activity is communicated in the language of numbers, daily management decisions are based on comparisons of better than and worse than. To make those decisions, managers need to ask, Why?

Perhaps the best reason to be an adherent of Theory Why is that its risk/reward ratio is low and the return on the investment is high. It’s simple to apply and invariably yields good results.

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