The manager slumps on his desk, frustrated and confused. In his mind, he has done everything right to manage his team to success. He carefully explained to them the task at hand and its deadline for completion, how it was supposed to get done (and by whom), and outlined the expected results.
He monitored the resulting team activity and provided useful feedback.
And yet, even with all that work, the outcome was less than expected.
What went wrong?
It’s one of those situations that can drive leaders crazy. I know, because it’s happened to me.
There’s a missing piece to the puzzle here, and that piece is a question that HAS to be answered – before anybody asks.
Look again at my example above. The manager, in working with his team, had answered four questions: “What?”, “When?“, “How?”, and “Who?”
What was missing?
It was the answer to the question “Why?”
Put another way, it’s critical for a leader to place the desired result in the proper context for each team member, as well as explaining the importance of each person’s role in achieving that result.
Consequently, leaders need to sit down with their team and get those “Why” answers on the table, and make sure they are understood. You cannot assume that they know these answers – even if they don’t ask the questions.
Granted, this can be a time consuming exercise, especially when there are tight deadlines. There’s typically a strong temptation to just step on the accelerator and get the bus moving. But successful leaders must resist that temptation.
It’s really a matter of giving meaning to the work that each person does, which leads to happier, more motivated, and more productive teammates. Providing individual context can be that powerful, just as powerful as the company “Why” concept made famous by author Simon Sinek and his “Golden Circle” TED talk.
Here’s a specific example. At my cable TV company we started tracking a customer service metric called the Net Promoter Score (NPS), based on specific customer feedback. When we first started we more or less just “put it out there”, explaining the mechanics of the metric, the way it was compiled and scored, and setting a company goal.
The metric performed reasonably well, but we hit a plateau and missed our goal. We eventually determined that the way to push it past this barrier was to spend a lot more time with our customer facing staff explaining the “whys”; why the NPS measurement was important to the success of the company, and why their specific actions could make a difference in moving the number higher. We had these sessions multiple times over the course of a year.
Once we did that, and with those “why” answers more clearly understood by our teammates, our scores eventually exceeded our original goal, and they continued to rise to greater heights as we kept raising the bar, hitting industry leading levels. And better still, our employee satisfaction scores also went up.
So remember, don’t forget the “why” – and keep your sanity.