Context and the 5 Whys

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“The smart and quirky advisor who gets sh!t done in business.” Back independent since 2019. 

Since April 2006, I’ve been an international business advisor providing bespoke solutions for privately-owned businesses with 12-96 employees. 

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Is your business stuffed? Are you stuffed? Let’s be honest. It’s one of the realities of being a business owner is that the longer we’re in business, the more team the more clients even the more money that we’re bringing in, the more stuffed we get. Today’s short video is really about helping you to get unstaffed to give you that helicopter view that sometimes it’s hard to find in a business, and most importantly to really give you a useful tool so you can stop working in the business and start working on the business. This is a tool that we call context.  

What’s the context that sits around all of the decisions that are made within your business? Because if you’re clear on why you’re doing certain things, and if your team are clear about why you’re doing certain things, then a whole lot of the issues that show up in the staff will go away. Let me give you a simple example that I actually see in a lot of partnerships. They sit down and decide that growth is a priority for the business. One of them goes and hires a new staff member. One of them goes and fires a staff member, and yet both think that that’s the growth strategy. For the first partner, growth meant more people more revenue that we can generate, more clients that we can service—that’s growth isn’t it the other partner saw that getting rid of some overhead would grow profit.  

They were much more interested in the shorter term benefits of growing profit, which is also one way of defining growth. They had an issue down herein the stuff. They made very very different decisions despite feeling aligned and that was because they really didn’t get to the heart of why—why do we want to grow? What do we actually mean by growth? And this is a decision that shows up in everything, from big strategic elements to who cleans the kitchen and who puts the paper back into the photocopier. You may have heard and it’s something that’s been handed down from Toyota, large multinational business, the five wise. In other words, whatever the issue that shows up in the stuff, if you ask why five times, you will eventually get to the very root cause of that problem. This is a great tool.  

What we do with our clients is give it a little bit more structure to make sure that those questions don’t go off on a vast tangent and this is our five wise framework most businesses try and fix problems from the bottom up. In fact, when we go into an organization, we would rather start right at the very very top because if you can get clear from the very top and work your way down, it’s much easier if you do find that your business is stuck in the stuff and you’re struggling to get out.  

The five wise will take you on a journey up through this process refined. It’s easier to understand the levels if we go top down at the very very top of your business is your vision. This is the highest context—the really big why you decided to start this business or become a leader in this business. Three key elements that sit at the vision layer beliefs in purpose. Your personal beliefs, and what’s the purpose, and mission for this business. Who is your commercial goals? What are the dollars and cents objectives that you’re looking to build? And thirdly, the cultural experience that you’re aiming to create for the business. If you have those clear, it makes an awful lot of other decisions so much easier. And yet for many businesses, especially those that have been for around for awhile, those decisions those contexts have wavered, if you’re clear on the vision, you can then get clear on the strategy you need to take you there.  

Three elements to the strategy are your growth plan: What are the specific steps to take you from where you are now to where you want ahead in the future? You need a brand and marketing strategy. You need a presence in your marketplace whether you’re selling retail or b2b. You need to be famous for something to help guide all of the elements that sit below. And the third element of strategy is the customer journey. This is a critical element for modern businesses because our customers have more choice than ever.  

Before, mapping the customer journey at that strategy level helps get you clear on what are the growth steps. You need to move Ford once you have a documented vision. A clear strategy moving forward. You then get into the resources within your business. This is where a lot of the frustration can show up. Three elements to resources are the operational structure that you have in place. Do you have the right people doing the right job at the right time? Secondly, skills and development. Do your team have the right skills? It’s something I see in growth businesses. Most of all is, where somebody who’s been loyal to the business has been promoted above their level of skill and your choice in that situation is difficult. You can either work on training that individual, or you can bring in somebody else to sit above them. Neither is an easy decision but either will solve the problems that are created when you’ve got the wrong person sitting in one of those roles. The third element that’s its in resources is your profit formula revenue is vanity profit is sanity cash is reality for a lot of businesses. They really don’t have the financial fundamentals at a resource level to make sure that they’re making money every month.  

From here, you start to get into some of the stuff. Some of the day-to-day elements that run your business that are just as important because this is where your business actually happens but then less instructive and guiding for your team systems and processes don’t need to be a mammoth effort unless you’re a mammoth business. However, I find it a lot of businesses, we just do things the way we’ve always done. Losing one staff member can create havoc because that person was the only person who knew how to do certain things. They didn’t have the systems and processes in place and one of the fundamental issues that shows up particularly if we’re working from the bottom up is expectations. Are you and your team clear about all of the expectations about who needs to do what? Are those expectations fully documented and have they been communicated to the team? If you’ve got a clear vision strategic roadmap to get you there, then you can structure the resources appropriately and have them drive the systems and processes that your business needs and set the right expectations with every team member to make sure that the stuff is a whole lot easier. Sometimes that can be a step too far.  

If you were your business really are stuffed, sometimes you do just need to start at the bottom and slowly work your way up when something goes wrong. Need to ask why we’re with the expectations misaligned about what needed to happen and why were they documented, where they communicated, or where assumptions made once. You’ve identified where the expectations mismatch was you can ask why there was such an expectations mismatch that will direct you to the system or process that was in place or not in place that should have informed those expectations. Once you’ve identified the specific system that was an issue, you can ask why that created a problem which brings you to the resource mix. Was the person responsible spread too thin? Did they not realize they were responsible? Were they focusing on other elements of the profit formula? Once you’re clear about the resources people and technology that caused the issue, you can ask: Why that created the issue? Which will bring you up to the strategy? Which part of your strategy to move in that direction? Missed something that created this issue down, do you need to change that strategy? Or is it as simple as recommunicating that strategy?  

Reconfirming it so the team understand it and if you’ve got an issue with this strategy level, if that’s unclear or it’s not supporting your business, you need to ask why one final time which brings you up to the, was it your own limiting beliefs that created that issue? Was it misalignment of misunderstanding of the commercial goals or was it something sitting in the culture of your business at a high level that created these issues all the way down?  

Sometimes you’ll find a quick fix at one of these levels. I’d encourage you to keep going, ask all five wise move up the different layers of context to get to the root cause because solving the problem here will fix so many more issues in the stuff and you’ll suddenly find that a business that had you stuffed has you excited once again you.  


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