Leadership Move #26: Explain the ‘Why?’

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Who hasn’t overheard this type of conversation between a boss and employee:

Boss: Do this.
Employee: Why?
Boss: Because I say so.

Given this reality, no wonder employee morale and engagement is so often as low as it is!

Sure, there are times when a crisis or tight deadline might require extreme employee responsiveness, but making them jump through hoops just because you can is bad form.

Why ‘Because I Say So ‘ is NOT Your Best Move

Sure, using these words can seem pretty effective.

  • They seem to save time.
  • They seem to eliminate the need to explain oneself.
  • And they seem to keeps things moving.

Or does they?

Initially, maybe yes. But you have to ask – whose time are you saving? And for how long? Because if you’re thinking that such heavy-handedness doesn’t result in considerable grousing about you behind your back, you’re terribly, terribly wrong.

And does it really eliminate the need to explain oneself? Maybe in this moment, but if your staff can’t figure out the rationale for your request, then they’re likely not going to be able to provide an end-product you’ll be satisfied with. No, chances are much better that they’ll only provide you with what you specifically asked for – what’s minimally required – rather than what you intended for them to do – or what would truly ‘wow!’ you.

As for it keeping things moving? Hardly. In truth, it’s actually far more likely that you’ll just end up creating one gigantic bottleneck as everyone around you simply learns that it’s best to just wait until you to tell them, precisely, what to do.

Besides, it’s just wrong for a boss to be that disrespectful.

Taking Time Saves Time

So is there a better way? Yes, there is: Whenever you have a task or assignment to delegate to someone, spend an extra 15 seconds and explain the ‘why?’ – the business justification – behind your request.

  • Why does the database needs to be scrubbed? Because inaccurate records delay our ability to respond to client concerns in an expeditious manner.
  • Why is the report now needed tomorrow? Because some important decisions need to be made and the report will provide the essential information we need to make them.
  • Why do we need stakeholder approval before this next step? Because while we can certainly wreck this project all by ourselves, the only way for it to succeed is with the support and involvement of our key business partners.

Getting clear on what the ‘why?’ (that is, the underlying business justification) isn’t always easy. But it is wildly important.

 

Why the ‘Why?’ Matters

Knowing, and being able to articulate the underlying ‘why?’ for everything you delegate makes it so much easier to talk in meaningful, relevant and compelling ways. And when your staff understands why it makes sense to be do what you’re asking them to, it becomes that much easier for them to do a better job.

Which makes employee buy-in that much easier.

Which moves things forward that much faster.

Which gives you, and others, much more time to work on what else is important.

Which makes it that much easier for you – and everyone else – to be notably successful.

Is ‘Because I Say So’ Ever Appropriate?

Not in those words, per se, no. But in times of true urgency, when you really do need extreme employee responsiveness, try saying this:

“I want you to know that there is a solid business justification for what I’m asking you to do, even if it’s unclear to you in this moment. And, while I’d be happy to explain the ‘why?’ to you later, if you’d like, because of the urgency of the matter, it’s essential that you take care of it, first, right now, without delay. Agreed?”

A Translucent ‘Why?’

But what if you don’t actually know (or can’t articulate) the ‘why?’ that you’ve been given by someone up the chain? What then? Well, perhaps that means you need to go ask your boss for some additional clarification.

And what if you don’t actually know (or can’t articulate) the ‘why?’ behind your own request? (Hey, it happens.) Well, perhaps – just perhaps – the task you had in mind really doesn’t need to be done, after all.

Hmm, not assigning unnecessary work? What a great way to improve employee morale and engagement!

 

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