Why you need to explain the “Why”

But why?

When you were younger, do you would recall a time when you asked your parents “but why?” to the point of frustration?

Why does the grass grow? Because it has soil as food and rain as water.

But why? So that animals can eat it.

But why? Because they need food like you do.

But why? So that they can grow.

But why?

…and eventually the stream of questions and answers is concluded with “Just because” or “Because I said so”.

As we get older this need to understand “why” doesn’t disappear, we just get less annoying when we ask! I can assure you that if you take the time to explain the “why” to someone then they will get it, and not only will they do what you ask, but they will do it well.

My first workplace lessons

My first official job was at McDonalds restaurants, and yes I wore the costume and the geeky visor (though they were not that bad in the 90’s!) So there I was on my first day, resplendent in polyester red stripes, and being trained on the “front end”, aka the customer counter.

Now, if you have not have the opportunity to work in fast food, let me tell you that it is the best way to ensure you will never be rude to a restaurant service person the rest of your life, because what they go through is deplorable. I don’t know when it became the norm to yell, scream, hit on (seriously creepy), or generally disrespect and be rude to young teenagers, but it is a lesson you don’t forget.

But I digress. So the training at McDonalds is comprehensive, first you watch a video about the task, run through the process with a trainer, and then you are observed and rated against a check list, so you can be sure you didn’t miss anything, more than once! This is all very intimidating to a 15-year-old girl new to the restaurant business! I passed all my tests and then I got to work.

My third day on the job, I scooped the ice into the cup without the scoop, I just swept the cup through the ice tank to get ice into the cup. A colleague had told me it was faster and when you are 10 deep (that’s McD’s lingo for 10 customers in your line) then you need to hustle. McDonalds customers are not patient, it’s called fast food for a reason!

Well lo and behold my shift manager stops me in my tracks. “What did you just do?”

“Got the coke for my customer.” I innocently responded.

“Yes but you didn’t use the scoop to put the ice in the cup, did you?”

Change behaviour by explaining the Why

Uh oh, I caught on I had done something wrong, but as I nodded he just calmly pointed out…”you should always use the ice scoop because when you scoop it with the cup, the wax on the cup breaks and ends up in the cup with the ice. Then our customers will end up drinking the wax.”

Whoa. What?

I am inadvertently making people drink wax?

Whoa. Not cool.

Let me tell you that simple explanation was all it took. I used the ice scoop from that point onwards with diligence and commitment!

The importance of Why

It’s worth explaining the why, because then, not only do you engage your employees and explain the logic behind the actions you ask them to take, but you also ensure they will do the job the way it needs to be done.

In this case not only did he correct a behaviour, he did it in a respectful, honest, and sincere fashion…and he was transparent about why.

Yes this is a relatively simple example but it rings true throughout the corporate world. Often leaders go to leadership meetings and are given an agenda of what they need to accomplish in the coming year, month, or even week. Then more times than not, they do not share that plan with their employees. They just give them direction and actions that are needed to accomplish it.

Imagine if those leaders took the time to tell employees “this is the vision from the top, this is why it’s being asked for, and this is what our role is in that vision”. Do you think they might just engage their employees? Have them working towards the same goal? Very likely renewing their commitment to accomplishing it?

Trust me. The “why” goes a long way.

(Ask any McD’s customer who’s had to drink wax.)

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