When I coach leaders, I often ask them, “What is your What-Why Ratio?”
To their puzzled look, I add, “For every time you tell a subordinate what you want, how often do you explain why? The ‘why’ is the basis for the ‘what’ – the purpose served or goal to be achieved.”
The typical answer: “I don’t know. I never thought about it.”
Here’s my recommendation: Start thinking about it. Make the What-Why Ratio one to one. Never request a what without addressing the why behind it.
- Don’t assume (I pronounce the word “ASSume”) that the person shares your why. You’d be surprised how often the two planets diverge.
- By addressing the why, you give the other person an opportunity to come up with a better what than yours. Read more about this here.
- It’s a gesture of respect: “You’re not my servant. You’re my colleague.”
The Power of Recognition
According to behavioral scientists, a great way to condition desired behavior (human and otherwise) is to give direct, immediate recognition. This means every behavior worth repeating, large or small, major or minor, should get recognized.
Most organization leaders are not behavioral scientists, however. More typical is what’s been called, “The leave alone – zap method.” If I’m your boss and you continue to do what I want, you won’t hear from me. But cross the line and it’s “Zap!”
As a coach, I encourage leaders to break this habit. To do so, be proactive about observing behaviors or actions around you that are worth repeating, meaning they contribute or add value to your why – the overall big picture, mission, vision or goals. Next, give them direct recognition. Don’t let even the seemingly small positive acts pass unacknowledged.
During his 10 years as CEO of Campbell’s Soup Co., Doug Conant developed a daily practice of sending handwritten notes to employees around the world, thanking them for specific behaviors that had been reported to him, and which supported the “why” Conant was trying to achieve. “Thank you, Maria in Mexico City, for working an extra shift to ensure our customer got the product it needed on time. Best regards, Doug.”
Over those 10 years, Conant estimates he sent over 30,000 such notes. Not coincidentally, over that same period, both Campbell Soup’s employee engagement scores and its financial performance skyrocketed.
As a leader, I recommend you take the following three steps:
First –Make your What-Why Ratio one to one. If you can’t come up with a why for your what, then I ask you: Why the what?
Second –Identify all the behaviors/actions occurring around you that contribute to or support the why.
Third – Instead of taking these behaviors/actions for granted, give prompt, direct recognition to the persons responsible. Like Conant, express your gratitude.