Simon Sinek’s ‘Why’ movement connects at so many levels. The Why of what we do, the Why of what organisations do.
I tapped into this when coaching a line manager. He told me that a staff member flipped out when he asked them to do something. The task would have taken about 5 minutes. I asked him how he had framed the request. He said “I told him what I wanted him to do. Simple. It would only have taken 5 minutes but would have helped out somebody else heaps”. I asked him if he had explained why the task was important, how it would make a difference. Puzzled he said “No”. I shared how explaining the ‘Why’ might have got a positive result. The light bulb went on for him. We discussed how when people understand the ‘why’ of what we’re asking them they’re more likely to connect with the request and understand how they contribute to the bigger picture.
When it comes to people management you can use the power of ‘why’ at so many levels; managing performance; giving direction; explaining standards; connecting people to vision and goals; managing change – be it a small step process change or large scale organisational change. Here’s an example.
A team member shared with me that they were having problems with staff not completing attendance registers by a set time on a weekly basis. Despite training and weekly reminder emails, every week the person had to chase up a number of people reminding them of the same thing, week in, week out. I suggested that he explain why it was important, instead of just “We need to receive this by 10am on a Wednesday”. It sounded like a bureaucratic rule. Context was missing. He changed the message. He met with the people and explained why it was important at a number of levels. As it involved young people he also connected from a position that was important to many of them, as parents. There was an immediate change. The next week the registers were in, on time. He had buy-in. In training he now starts with the ‘Why’.
Too often when framing a request we just focus on ‘what’ we want them to do. For task focused leaders it’s quick, they get it out there and move on … to the next task. Some might follow up with with ‘how’ we want them to do it. A tad micro-managing, command and control in approach for me.
Creating high performance cultures involves connecting people to a higher, shared common purpose. People buy into the ‘why’ of what you ask them to do. Next time you have to make a request shift things around a little. Start with the Why.