Why is the why so important?

I was working with a team inside of a large technology company that was going through a lot of organizational change. In fact, for the previous three years or so every year they had another big leadership role shift and following that there was always a corresponding reorganization and some layoffs. I could tell that people were getting weary of it all. Every wave of change left people somewhat disoriented and many repeatedly felt like they had to start building things all over again, which was a disheartening feeling.

During my long-standing engagement with this team I had many opportunities to asked its leaders and managers to explain the reasoning behind, and purpose of the changes. These were very committed, loyal team members who were with the company for many years. In many previous change events, I got clear answers to my questions. However, this time was different. They couldn’t tell me why the current changes, which were shaking up and disrupting the company, were needed and what their purpose was. As I travelled across this global company I got similar responses of lack of clarity and confidence.

I have seen companies get away with significant corporate change, reorganization, disruption and turbulence, even repeatedly over several years, when leadership was able to clearly convey to its team members, mainly their leaders and managers, what their future destination and strategy is, and why the changes, that are making everyone’s life more difficult today, are necessary in order to achieve a better, greater desirable future for everyone.

But, in this case, the why wasn’t clear to people, and many, perhaps most seem to be more irritated, frustrated and disheartened by the change than before.

Have you ever experienced a major change in your company that affected your ability to fulfill your job, and you didn’t fully understand or agree with the need for this change?

With every change, there is the what, how and why.

What will the change look like?

How will it work and affect me?

Why are we doing it in the first place?

The what and how provide people with clarity on the process, timeline and what is expected of them. Think of it as clear marching orders. That is important in order to drive efficiency and effectiveness and avoid operational and implementation confusion and chaos.

However, the what and how do no generate personal buy-in, ownership and confidence. Only clarity regarding the reason and purpose can provide that. That is the why.

From my experience, buy-in and ownership are the most important things for change, and often the most difficult thing to universally achieve. In fact, the bigger, longer and more complex the change, the bigger the understanding, buy-in and ownership of the why need to be.

Context is a very powerful phenomenon. It gives people trust, faith and confidence, as well as patience, tolerance and sustaining power in the greatest challenges and toughest times. It doesn’t cost a penny to explain to people and enroll them in why the changes are necessary. It takes a powerful conversation.

If you want to drive change in your organization, make sure everyone at least understands and respects the why. If you want to drive the change in a high-performance manner, make sure people also believe and buy into the why.

Founder and President of Quantum Performance Inc., a management consulting firm specializing in generating total alignment and engagement in organizations.

His work has encompassed a broad range of industries including banking, telecommunications, manufacturing, entertainment, real estate, retail, startups and non-profits.

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