Answering the vision question: Why are we going there?

Posted on May 22, 2013

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Editor’s note: I’m excited to welcome a new guest blogger to the Event 360 blog. David Berry’s professional passion is helping leaders find the courage and wisdom to create environments where they, and the people they lead, can creatively explore the limitless possibilities of their potential – and build rock-solid organizations while doing so.

In David’s second post of a five-part series, he asks one of the five fundamental questions every leader must answer in a clear and compelling way if they want to build an organization of maximum engagement. Since we know that employee engagement typically runs at about 30% this is no small task. But, since we also know that organizations with higher engagement also deliver better results it’s something that cannot and should not be ignored. To that end, over a series of five posts Davis is asking you to consider these questions in the hope that you will be motivated to think deeply about and take action on your own answers. The only thing at stake is the full engagement of your team in a cause worth fighting for.

Question #1: What will your organization look like five years from now?

Question #2: Why are we going there?

The very word “why” conjures for me the feelings of annoyance I sometimes get when my kids pester me for more information. The other day we were planning to celebrate Mother’s Day at my sister’s house where there is a POOL! When I told my youngest kids (at 11:30 AM) where we were headed they proceeded to ask me when we were leaving (not until 4:30 PM). What ensued, as every parent knows too well, was the incessant harangue of “Is it time to go yet?” Finally my youngest said to me: “But Dad, why can’t we leave until 4:30?”  I hadn’t stopped to explain that, A) we weren’t invited to come until 4:30 or, B) your aunt would like some time by the pool ALONE ON MOTHER”S DAY before being overrun by nieces and nephews or, C) your mom would like to spend the day doing projects at her own house or, D) your dad needs some time to get dinner prepared, etc. 

You see, there were plenty of good reasons “Why?” and had I only taken some time early on to answer them I might (MIGHT!) have avoided some of the understandable frustration expressed in their impatient waiting. I didn’t think they deserved the time and effort it took to explain all of that because, after all, I’m the parent and we leave when I say it’s time to leave. (The old model still gets it’s way now and then, I’m afraid.)

Does this ever play out similarly in our organizations? Does it feel familiar to you? If as leaders we feel confident that we’ve laid out a clear and compelling answer to the question “Where?” (and even the “When?”) have we done as much to explain the “Why?” Do we even feel like we should have to or do we believe it is self-evident? “Why are we going there? Are you serious? Isn’t it obvious???” (Important aside: I have no intention of infantilizing the workforce through the comparison to my kids but it does feel useful to recognize how paternalistic our leadership can feel to others without our even being aware of it. A classic blind spot.) 

Sharing our best thinking and our clearest rationale for the “Why?” of this particular path is precisely the tonic for the inevitable anxiety that comes in the pursuit of something significant. To ask people to engage – again, to bring the best of themselves; their creativity, energy, passion – is to ask them to risk something far greater than a daily transaction of trading time for money.

Our job as leaders is to earn the right to expect those qualities and to protect them with great care. The time required to explain “Why?” is far less than that required to recruit, hire and train the  next person who you assume should just “get it.”

(A final note: if you’re up for a challenge go ask a few team members our first two questions: “Where are we going?” and “Why are we going there?” Whatever their response, the credit for it will be all yours.) 

David Berry (@BerryDavid on Twitter) inspires and challenges leaders to make the modern workplace more fully human. His personal conviction and conversational good humor capture the attention of his audiences while his insight and awareness challenge them to have new conversations about both personal and organizational renewal. Audiences have described him as being informative and inspiring, relevant and revolutionary, self-effacing and passionate. David’s blog, Leading Change, is a chronicle of his experiences in learning and leading. You can contact David through his website or via LinkedIn.

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