We’re often challenged and encouraged to understand the ‘why’ behind what we do. To understand and connect to the greater purpose of our actions so we can make strong decisions, push through challenges, stay aligned with the work we love and recognise the right opportunities for us. It’s essential to communicating effectively and leading people on the right path. By understanding the ‘why’ the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ then follows according to Simon Sinek in his now famous Ted Talk.
I also believe this principle needs to apply to the actions we are asking our teams to do. It seems through various onboarding processes and when upskilling team members we are very good at training the what and the how, however we rarely explain the reason ‘why’ we’re asking or requiring this to be done. This could be a:
The reasons why we’re asking our team to do something can range from
- It fulfills something
- It supports something
- It keeps them safe
- It protects the business, client, team or all
- It delivers the best outcomes
- It’s efficient
- It’s effective
- It aligns with something else
It’s Just How It’s Done Around Here
This is the reason ‘why’ that is commonly explained when things are questioned
Q: ‘Why do we do it that way?’
A: I’m not really sure; it’s just how we do things around here
And it’s great that the team know what to do and how to do it. You’re two-thirds of the way there! Ticking off the third component of understanding the reason why things are done could make a huge difference to your business and to an individual’s performance. Especially as the generations get younger, these curious creatures have a hunger to know and understand how their required actions fulfill a greater purpose, which challenges us all to be better. There are numerous positives in this from improved job satisfaction, a focus on constant improvement by having things questions and improved efficiencies.
That said, another benefit to being questioned on the ‘why’ is it challenges us to assess if the required action or task is still relevant. There are many processes and procedures that may have been put in place for a good reason way back when, however with the constantly changing workplace, it may now not serve a strong purpose signaling a required change.
Here are three reasons why understanding the ‘why’ makes a positive difference:
Similar to understanding the greater reason ‘why’ you do what you do, understanding the reason behind your actions increases motivation levels. By connecting with the task and understand how it supports a greater purpose in the organizations rather than just seeing it as something that has to be done increases motivation levels. Often when we don’t understand the reason, we can see it as a hindrance rather than a help or a drag that is a time sapper. The reason a task or action if required could be for the immediate or long-term benefit.
The Military is a strong example of ensuring their team all understand the reason why things are done for the simple reason that it’s dangerous if they don’t. They need to understand the consequence to their actions and the chain of events one action could cause. It can be a matter of life and death. Understanding actions ultimately protect their team and fulfill a greater mission. This isn’t dissimilar to business. Various compliance processes and safety systems protect employees, the business and clients. It’s a matter of explaining the reason behind it, not simply asking someone to complete a checklist because they should.
Assists Decision Making
When we have a greater understanding of the why it can definitely assist with decision making. If you don’t have a clear understanding of why a task is required it can lead to silly decisions and to overlook things. The consequence may not hurt you now but certainly could in the future.
It can also assist a greater purpose in your decision making; to support your leadership or make strong career decisions. If you understand the why things are required you can make smarter decisions towards achieving goals, challenge relevance, be innovative and support the growth of the business because you understand how things relate, align and work together.
The Way Forward
There’s really no downside to explaining the why behind a task or action. And it just sounds like a no-brainer right? Some will be doing it well and other not so great. What’s the enemy to this? Time. We’re so busy! Often people are recruited into a business on a needs basis and upskilled to fill a vacancy that was unexpected so the challenge to get them up to speed is a time critical one with only enough time to show them the necessities, often to the exclusion of the why.
So this comes full circle, the solution is to change our induction and training programs to include the why together with the what and the how and allowing enough time to do that. The time invested at the front end here will benefit you greatly in the long run. This will be a challenge but if the value is emphasized and understood then the action should appear seamless. It all comes back to that ‘why’!