What? Before Who? Before How?—and Why? Before Everything

There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.
Peter Drucker

There’s a heck of a lot of confusion around the management of human performance in general so it’s not surprising to find the same confusion surrounding the management of driver behaviour.

Strategy and tactics get confused

It’s not unusual to see little thought being given to overall direction and approach and then loads of effort put into tweaking the methodology of implementation. Hence the Drucker quote.

Wants and needs get confused

Asking for what you want usually ties you down to specific means. For example, “We want a three-day leadership training workshop for managers, with lots of emphasis on case-studies.” Or, “We want on-line assessments of drivers followed by half-day defensive driving seminars for low- and medium-risk drivers and a day of in-vehicle training for high-risk drivers.”

In contrast, working out exactly what your needs are puts the emphasis on results, such as, “We need to ensure that all our managers are effective leaders, able to get the best performance from their staff and, thus, to make the maximum contribution to the company’s objectives.” Or, “We need to find out exactly what risks our drivers face, and we need to ensure that they consistently protect themselves from those risks.”

Ask How? last

By far the most common mistake in planning a programme to manage driver behaviour is to start by asking the question: “How are we going to do this?”

Discussions and decisions then tend to focus on choices such as on-line interventions or face-to-face, seminar or in-vehicle, real vehicle or simulator, on-road or closed facility, resources supplier A or B, service supplier X or Y, and so on.

Notice that all of these considerations are about delivery—How do we deliver the programme? These should be the last questions to ask, not the first.

Well before you start getting bogged down in the How?, you need to know what you want to do and for whom. And that all comes from answers to the most important questions you should ask first—Why?


The Why? questions help you to uncover reasons.

First there are the general Why? questions that may apply to your situation, such as:

  • Why do we feel the need to do anything?
  • Why are we dissatisfied with things as they are?
  • Why is our business not performing in this regard as well as the best-performing businesses?
  • Why is this problem costing so much?
  • Why has this been getting worse?
  • Why has it taken us so long to appreciate the size of this problem?
  • Why do we have to do something now?
  • And, when you start to explore the issue, Why am I getting such conflicting advice?

Then there are more specific Why? questions, like:

  • Why are we having so many crashes?
  • Why are our fuel bills so high?
  • Why do we have so much abuse of our vehicles?
  • Why are our drivers fatigued?
  • Why are our drivers stressed?
  • Why are our drivers not following company policies?
  • Why are we getting complaints about our drivers?


When you get to the What? questions you start to analyse the problem and, from that analysis, you can identify what needs to change.

Here’s a few examples of analysing What? questions:

  • What kinds of crashes are we having? In what environments? In what vehicles? At what times of the day? What kinds of behaviour are contributing to these crashes?
  • What specific behaviours are contributing to our heavy fuel consumption? Aggressive driving? High cruising speeds? Inefficient use of gears? Unnecessary idling? Overloaded vehicles? Incorrect tyre pressures? Aerodynamic drag? What other factors?
  • What kinds of abuse are our vehicles suffering? What is directly caused by driving performance and what has other causes, such as careless disregard for company property?
  • What is making our drivers stressed or fatigued? Schedules? Shift patterns? Daily distances? Improper rest? Conflicting demands?
  • What are the most commonly ignored policies? What shortcomings in communication or management may be contributing to this?

Each of the analysis questions usually produces a number of answers. Each of these answers then leads to a key What? question that identifies specific needs. That question is:

  • What is the behavioural change that we seek in this instance?

Don’t fall into the trap of looking only at behavioural change amongst the drivers. It’s often the case that the behaviour of other people within the organsiation, especially managers, is having a detrimental effect on driver behaviour.


If I might be permitted an Orwellian reference, all pigs are not equal. Some people contribute much more than others to problems and, consequently, need to make more and bigger changes to their behaviour. The Who? questions allow you to target the individuals whose behaviour needs to change.

Some people contribute to a number of problems, while others may present weakness in just one area. You can’t lump all the “problem” drivers together. Various, overlapping subgroups can be established by asking Who? Questions like:

  • Who crashes?
  • Who wastes fuel?
  • Who abuses vehicles?
  • Who displays symptoms of stress or fatigue?
  • Who is the subject of complaints?

Back to Why?

Once you’ve identified the particular dysfunctional behaviours of particular people, you need to explore some more Why? questions, but this time at an individual level, for example:

  • Why does this driver crash?
  • Why does this driver waste fuel?
  • Why does this driver abuse vehicles?
  • Why does this driver get stressed or fatigued?
  • Why does this driver cause complaints to be made?

These questions help to identify the underlying causes of behaviours. Note that it’s not enough simply to ask appropriate questions; the issues have to be explored and various means may be appropriate to do so. For example, if you want to establish whether the problem lies in a lack of competence, you get people to demonstrate their competence; you don’t ask them whether they’re competent.

There’s a common, but mistaken, assumption that the cause of most driving problems is lack of competence. Hence the over-reliance on training as an intervention. But if a driver can demonstrate an adequate level of competence yet presents a problem (he’s crashed a few times, say), the cause of this dysfunctional behaviour probably lies elsewhere. Perhaps it’s attitudinal. Perhaps it’s inconsistency of performance. Perhaps it’s external pressures or distractions. Perhaps it’s something else. Don’t assume; find out.

And, finally, How?

Once you’ve dug down and uncovered the causes of problems you can start thinking about allocating resources and interventions to bring about changes in behaviour. Some of these interventions will be top-down, at the level of the organisation’s culture for instance. Others are bottom-up, addressed to individuals, particularly at the level of influencing mindset.

This, finally, is when we ask How? questions, but highly-targeted ones, like:

  • How do we eliminate ignorance of this important information? How do we communicate it as effectively as possible? How do we establish that it is understood? How do we ensure that the information is acted upon?
  • How can we most effectively assist the development of specific competencies that are currently deficient? How will we know when those competencies have been developed and are being consistently used?
  • How can we remove any hindrances to the functional behaviour that we desire?
  • How can we provide inducements or rewards to encourage appropriate behaviour?
  • How can we discourage inappropriate behaviour?

The benefit

There’s no denying that a fair bit of effort is involved in all this Why? What? Who? and How? So what’s the benefit of all the effort? Well, in a nutshell, it’s the only way to ensure that you do the right things, with the right people, in the most effective manner.

Then you won’t fall into the all-too-common trap described by Peter Drucker at the head of this article.

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