Five ‘Whys’ that could expose stupid management policies



THE CEO visited the factory and noticed something unusual. He told his plant manager: “Every time I visit the plant, I can’t help but notice the fast-deteriorating condition of our water tank. Rust appears to destroy it. Why is this happening?”

The plant manager replied: “We’re using a harsh chemical cleaning compound to clean it.”

The CEO, of course, pursued it: “But, why are you using a harsh cleaning compound to clean it?”

Manager: “It is the best cleaning agent against pigeon poops on the [surface of the]tank itself.”

CEO: “But, why are there so many pigeon poops on the tank?”

Manager: “There are many pigeons that [roost atop the tank to catch and]eat the spiders found underneath the tank.”

CEO: “But, why are there so many spiders down there?”
Manager: “There are many spiders down there feasting on the insects.”

CEO: “But, why are there so many insects underneath the water tank?”

Manager: “Insects go down there to lay their eggs in the grass that has grown underneath the tank.”

CEO: “You’re fired! You don’t know what you’re doing. You know the root cause of the problem and yet you failed to act on it. Why don’t you simply cut the grass and cement it? Look at what happened. You created another problem with your stupid solution of using a harsh chemical compound!”

Sometimes, you don’t know what could hit you. But there’s one certainty. Asking at least a minimum of five ‘Whys’ is a potent tool in problem-solving. And yet, many people ignore it due to its simplicity in bringing out the common sense in us.

Look back. Have you ever observed certain policies without challenging the reasons behind them? Of course, when you have to challenge a policy you have to do it diplomatically to avoid offending people. There are certain policies that can turn people into blind followers because they are maintained by managers who are emboldened by their command-and-control style.

Even when both insiders and outsiders point out obvious corporate failings, management sees nothing wrong with them, except to treat them as endearing perfect rules designed to “perpetuate” order. Or are they? This apparent infallibility of management obstructs the view of true reasoning, particularly when managers are known to be deadly ruthless and toxic to their people.

Maybe out of fear or respect for management authorities, this leads many of us to follow stupid rules, and spend so much money, and do great injustice to the organization. This “respect” for management authority, propped up by seniority, social status in life, post-graduate degrees, and length of work experience, produces a certain impression that turns people into blind followers.

Let me give you a real example of one major company that earns a lot of money and spends a significant amount on many non-value-added corporate practices – courtesy of its line supervisors and managers who fail to implement the basic attendance and punctuality policy among the employees.

This company has major business operations in a far-flung rural area. Almost all its workers are bonafide residents of the municipality where the company’s operations are located. Many of them use motorcycles in commuting to and from the office, which lies less than 1.5 kilometers away, or around 5 to 7 minutes away from their community.

It is a comfortable commute for all who can go and have lunch at home by about 12:10 pm and back to the office before 1:00 pm, using their privately owned motorcycle. They include some supervisors and managers with cars. Indeed, it’s heaven for workers who enjoy the comforts of a nearby work facility and be with their family at the same time. If there’s an ideal example of a work-life balance, this is one of them; no other case can beat this model. This is not to mention that the workers need not pay for the cost of cafeteria food, which could be prohibitive to some wage earners.

Trouble erupted when the workers became overly comfortable with the setup. Many of them abused the system.

They come in late in the morning and clock out as early as 4:30 pm – or about 30 minutes before the official close of the work hours at 5:00 pm. Instead of reminding the supervisors and their managers to chastise the workers on the company’s rules on attendance and punctuality, the management has chosen a difficult and expensive approach.

It disallows the workers from bringing in their cars and motorcycles inside the work site. They must park them in another company-owned facility, which is about one kilometer away from the site. Violators are regularly flagged by two security guards. To soften the impact of this policy, the company rented three buses to ferry the workers back and forth to the plant facility.

Many don’t realize that such stupid policy forces the organization to spend about P55,000 a month to implement it. Annually, they’re spending P660,000 for the guards’ salaries and their statutory benefits, bus service rental, and the constant administrative pain of coordinating the trips with the drivers and the employees.

Talk of a supposed solution creating another problem.

The lesson is clear. If some managers dish out a certain policy, think thrice, if not five times. Try to find out if the American genius W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993) was correct when he said: “80 percent of all problems are caused by management, and only 20 percent can be traced to the workers.”

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random thoughts on Elbonomics.


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