When we start working, we’re focused on doing the tasks that need to get done. Designing, writing, filing, answering the phone—these are all tasks that, when done well, lead to a raise and a promotion to a position where you can do higher level tasks. The further you move away from that entry-level role toward senior leadership roles, the higher the expectation of your contribution—and it’s not your tangible contribution. This change in contribution is moving from the HOW to the WHY.
Think of the HOW as the TACTICAL work. The tasks, the to-do’s, the get-it-done’s. Now think of the WHY as the STRATEGIC piece: the reason for every action taken and not taken.
Both the HOW and the WHY have value. For a company to thrive, there needs to be people delivering on both levels simultaneously. The question is, are you ready to contribute at a more senior level and continue to progress in your career? If so, keeping reading.
Look around you. Do you see a mess? Clean it up. But do it strategically. Here’s a true scenario:
HOW: Systematize a closet of samples so users can find a sample when they need it.
WHY: A systematized closet will allow management to know where every sample is at any moment, track usage and forecast our needs, potentially reducing sample orders and saving the company millions of dollars year after year.
The small financial investment to design a system for sample management saved the company millions of dollars and shifted the tone across the company. It brought people together to share their materials and information and the organization ran more efficiently as a result.
The closet scenario didn’t start with the intention to change the tone of the company. It was simply a mess and needed to be cleaned up. But the deeper the thinking went, the more strategic the solution became. Letting go of the HOW led to embracing the WHY. Why are people fighting over samples? Why don’t we ever have enough of the right samples? Why do we spend so much money on samples? Why is there another pile of samples blocking the stairwell!
Now let’s look at another example of thinking beyond the immediate.
HOW: Redo the project tracking Excel spreadsheet that was too big and kept crashing.
WHY: Create a reliable and scalable tool for tracking projects as well as related data to better understand and forecast the productivity and utilization within the department.
The crashing spreadsheet led to a true project management database that ensured consistent data was gathered and which enabled leadership to analyze and forecast intelligently. This allowed the Creative team to streamline project workflow, reduce cycle time and present compelling justifications for increased staff, even in times of economic hardship. It also led to a shift across the company, raising expectations of all leadership to deliver to this level of professionalism.
The WHY is never in a whiny voice. Sometimes it’s a frustrated voice. Mostly, it’s a curious and compassionate voice asking insightful questions to learn why you are doing something, why they are doing something and in what way the company will benefit.
The more time you spend on the WHY, the less time it takes to deliver the HOW. Try it at home, at the office, at the playground and let us know what you think.
For information about how Cella can add value to your business through consulting, coaching, and training, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. This article was written by Cella Consultant Rena DeLevie.