The question I hear most often is a simple one: "Why?" From an early age, the question of why is fascinating to us. My 3 year old son asks why about every 5 minutes. When I can remember to be patient and attentive in my answers, you can almost see him working out the reasoning as you explain things. Often, it prompts a follow up question to understand more fully.
"Why?" is such a great question because it expresses the natural curiosity that drives us to figure things out and use that information to drive different results (or repeat them if we liked the outcome).
The best performing organizations are constantly asking why. Why did the pipeline increase this week over last week? Why are returns creeping higher for one of our product lines? Why did we have to delay the release of a new product? The 5 Whys method developed by Sakichi Toyoda is a great example of the value of asking why.
In my first job out of college, I was working as a financial analyst for a telecom startup. After spending countless hours pulling together data from disparate sources, I'd do a quick scan to make sure everything looked right, then send it to the management team. Invariably, within 5 minutes, I'd get the first question, and it almost always started with "why." I didn't understand the value of the question at the time - it just always seemed like answering one question invariably led to many more questions.
It's taken several years to realize this quality is what leads to successful companies. That natural curiosity to continue to pull the thread until you fully understand what's happening is a key to organizational performance because it's the only way you can reliably address challenges and obstacles.
It takes courage to ask why because it means admitting you don't already know the answer and you are willing to consider the facts before coming to a conclusion. It also requires discipline. If you are wiling to accept answers that aren't fact or data-based, then asking why is futile. You must continue to seek factual data as the answer to your why questions.
I've had the privilege of working with some amazing people that relentlessly ask why and keep searching until they find the answer. I gravitate towards people that have an insatiable curiosity because I've learned that's what it takes to be successful. Organizations with people that understand the value of why become more consistent in their performance and execution. That's what a culture of performance is all about.