One spring day when I was seven, Dad told me to pick up the bits of trash in the yard. I asked Dad why. With frustration in his voice, Dad said “Because I told you to.” Fear of a spanking made me do the work although I didn’t want to. My reluctance was evident in my lackadaisical performance.
As an adult looking back on that memory, I recognize what was lacking. Would my work have been better had Dad said the following? “Hey Sis, I’m going to mow the back yard in a few minutes. Would you pick up any trash first? I’d hate to mow over the trash and scatter the bits everywhere. I want it to look nice for you and your friends when you play out here.”
WHY, worded well, provides a purpose greater than ourselves that inspires us to do our best.
A man saw two stonemasons hard at work on a job site. He asked the first one “Do you like your job?” The stonemason replied “It is boring, hard, backbreaking, hot work. I don’t think the project will be finished in my lifetime. But it’s a job. It pays the bills.”
The man asked the second stone mason “Do you like your job?” The stonemason replied “I love my job. I’m building a cathedral. I’ve been doing it for so long and the job can be boring, hard, backbreaking, and hot. But I’m building a cathedral.” (The abridged stonemason story is from Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why.)
Which stonemason’s work do you think is of a higher quality?
Your employees are not children, and probably not stonemasons. Yet they still need and want to know why. You need them to know WHY because you get their best when they know why. Of course, there is more to it. WHY must be from the other person’s perspective, not yours. Below is a guide.
What is the purpose or intent of the project or task you want done?
Example: Reopen the business to restart income flow.
Why is it important to you or the company?
Example: Two more months of shut-down will bankrupt the company.
What is the current situation?
Example: Some employees may fear coming back so soon. Maybe daycare isn’t open yet. How do I keep people safe?
What are your employees’ perspectives and concerns?
Example: Income, food, daycare, rent/mortgage, safety, etc.
From what angle would your employees see the benefit to themselves, agree to the work, and perhaps have a higher purpose that would inspire them for excellent performance? What is the WHY for your employees?
Example: “In order to get all of you earning money again, we need to reopen the shop. Initially, I can re-hire only half of you. Those of you who return first will lead the company into the new normal. Masks and gloves will be provided to protect the customers, you, and ultimately your children. For additional safety, lunch will be catered for the first week as we figure out the details together. Who is ready to come back to work?
Business owners want employees who care, do an excellent job, take ownership of their areas of responsibility, take pride in their work, brag about the company, get along with each other, and provide exceptional customer service. In one word, employers want Engaged employees. To obtain that, start with WHY.
Teri Haynes | Business Interactions, LLC | Improving human interactions in business