Where’s the why?

“Because I said so” was a common response to several of my childhood inquiries regarding why I could not have or do what I wanted. My parents had their reasons, but saw no advantage, or simply had too little time to provide answers. From their perspective, it was enough to say that it must be done and to question why was to question their authority. I did not consciously perceive that I was in the midst over a power struggle; But why I just wanted to get my way. But there was a struggle and I was operating at a physical and intellectual deficit. I had no real say in the matter, it simply would have been nice to understand their reasoning; however, it was culturally and innately difficult for them to communicate in any other way.  What I did not understand, until I became a parental figure myself, is that responding that way, while expedient, can often leave the one with less power with feelings of resentment. When this approach is used by managers and leaders of organizations, those same resentful feelings will again surface and lead to less than ideal working conditions.

It’s not that organizations set out to treat their employees like children (hopefully), but that is often how their communications come across. Business communications come at the speed of light, data flies across computer screen in the blink of an eye. Organizations at every level demand flexibility and adaptation to rapid changes. Employees are expected absorb information quickly and perform with strict adherence to whatever policy has been put forth.  Angry girlOn the surface, most employees respond remarkably well to directives they may neither fully understand or completely agree with, but underneath, they become actions without commitment to, or the understanding of, the goals of the organization.  Organizations and managers who ignore or gloss over “the why” run the risk of creating a culture of suspicion and misinformation, because if answers are not provided, then your people will come up with their own.

Explaining the whys of an organization’s decisions, long-range and short-range goals, does need weaken or undermine the power and authority of its leaders, quite the opposite actually. When your staff understands the logic behind a project or task, it gives them a greater sense of the role that they play. Employees have no trouble figuring out the “big picture” of profits and gains; they get the need to lower costs and increase revenues. What is all too often less clear is how what they are doing at any given moment, fits into those needs. For instance, nearly every customer service professional I’ve read or talked to say that there are some basic do’s when it comes to customer service:

  •       Greet customers quickly and warmly
  •       Determine what is needed or expected
  •       Pay attention to the customer and listen actively
  •       Empower employees
  •       Let them hear or see you smile
  •       Have great employee morale

If these are tenets you believe in, then there is a reason why they are important; as a leader you already understand the value of getting these things right….all the time, but do your employees know, do they care? It’s simply not enough to tell them it’s their job;  Brainit’s your job to explain why their role in raising the level of service maintains and enriches their job. However, I caution you, don’t try and sell them on something that does not exist, if their role is worthless to you, they will know it instinctively, regardless of what you say. Be honest, because if you do not value your employee’s roles, then your company is already moving into decline.

Explaining why shows confidence in your leadership, as well as in the difficult decisions you make. Explaining why allows employees get behind new projects and initiatives at an emotional level; this is the all-important buy-in that companies are looking for and teams are talking about. According to Gallup’s latest “State of the American Workplace” report, 70 percent of American workers are either “not engaged” of “actively disengaged” at their workplace. These numbers indicate that employees are feeling little or no connection or investment in their work. If you are thinking that telling employees the why is too simplistic an answer, you are correct; but it is an important part of overall employee satisfaction that includes other factors such as matching the right people to the right tasks, discovering career needs and want, and encouraging growth.

Giving your employees the why is not a magic pill that will get your people engaged and motivated, but it will give them a reason to do so.

~ Richard

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About Richard
I have spent my entire life learning to be a better communicator in in all facets of my life. I have learned as much from my failures as I have from success; laughing, crying and loving along the way. After earning a B.S. in Communications I decided to share what I have learned while continuing my own personal growth. I believe that the better we are to each other, the richer our lives will become.

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