This post is from the CollabNet VersionOne blog and has not been updated since the original publish date.
Whenever someone asks a question, they are likely seeking further understanding about whatever is placed before them. Ultimately, they are seeking to determine why it should be important to them, whether they say it out loud or not. “Why” is behind every question, and is the connection between the merits of the thing in question and the beliefs and values of the one asking. And, since action follows conviction, it behooves us to spend the time to answer “Why?” if we want a high level of commitment from those we lead.
Have you ever experienced a “why” train from a child? “Mommy, why is the sky blue? Why is space dark? Why are there so many stars?” And this continues until the parent says, “I don’t know”, or something like that, or until the child makes some profound statement like, “Dad said that God lives up there; I hope God is warm in space.”
Children are inquisitive, but when they ask these questions they aren’t as interested in how or what as much as they are in whether it should matter to them. They use questions as a way to determine value. We haven’t changed much since we were those inquisitive kids. If it’s not important to us, then we probably don’t care how something works or even what it’s supposed to do.
As leaders, we employ every motivational tactic we can think of in order to increase the commitment level and drive of those we lead. Whether it’s the promise of a bonus, free food, extra vacation or even the threat of firing them, we often only see a short lived jolt and then it’s right back to the status quo, or worse. But why? Exactly! “Why” is likely the reason!
If you have been struggling to keep your employees motivated and engaged, you probably need to spend some time connecting your desires with their values and beliefs. Dan Pink gives an excellent explanation of motivation in this animated video, but since this post isn’t about the various motivational tactics, suffice it to say that we are much more motivated to do things because we believe in them than for any other reason.
It seems simple, but unfortunately many leaders take this concept for granted and instead rely on what they can measure; time and money. As a business consultant, I see it all the time. Leaders ask, “is there any way to shorten the training? I only have $X to spend.” Or, “these are smart people, just show them how to do it and they’ll figure out the rest.” The worst being, “I don’t want them worrying about why we’re doing something; that’s my job. I just want them to do it!”
Can you imagine if we approached solving our customers’ needs in the same way? “Just tell me what you need; I could care less about why you need it.” Sadly, this too is a common pitfall. Often we are very detailed in what exactly needs to get done, but fail to understand or communicate why it’s important. So, we end up having uninspired people build it and then probably have trouble connecting with our customers once we do.
Simon Sinek, author of “Start with Why,” said, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” This is true for customers as well as for those we lead. So, either way, “why” should be at the heart of our conversations.
Whether it’s in expressing the company vision, announcing a new product line, or maybe even a new way of doing things, if we strive for support and commitment from those we lead, then we need to spend the time to connect our desires to their beliefs and values. After all, as Theodore Roosevelt pointed out, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” So, show them how much you care by answering “Why?”, because why matters.