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Theory “Why” Management

November 27, 2009

It was Private #1’s first day in his new unit. His sergeant lead him to an area on the perimeter of the camp and ordered him to dig a foxhole. Private #1, as he had many times in training, dutifully, but grudgingly, begun the task of digging the foxhole.

On Private #2’s first day with the same unit, his sergeant lead him to a similar area and told him that later that evening it was quite probable that their unit may come under attack. He told him to dig a foxhole so that he would be able to avoid the probable rocket and rifle fire expected that evening.

Which foxhole do think was dug faster, deeper, and more efficiently? People perform better when they understand why they are doing what they are doing. This is the basis of “Theory Why” management.

The logic supporting “Theory Why” management is simple, but sound. “Theory Why” management requires little effort to implement, costs practically nothing, yet will frequently pay handsome dividends.

The sales manger instructs his secretary, “I need this letter and quotation typed by 5 o’clock.” With little extra effort he might add, “I have to leave to catch a plane at five and if we get this quote in tonight’s mail we have a chance at getting a big new customer.” The little effort taken to add the “why” will most likely improve the chances of getting the job done on time as well as enhancing the mutual respect in the long term relationship.

It is necessary for any organization to plan in order to become what it wants to be. But planning for the future, while necessary, is not sufficient. “Theory Why” management is the logical extension of corporate planning. It is an application tool that enables the daily activities of an enterprise to be focused in support of its overall mission. Any activity in an enterprise can only to be justified by its congruence in support of the overall mission.

Managers from sergeants to supervisors, from C.O.s to C.E.O.s often feel that their authority is such that they don’t have to give an explanation when they give an order. They’re probably right. But what happens when they do? Didn’t the foxhole get dug deeper, faster, and more efficiently? Isn’t that what the job of management is all about?

By giving an explanation, some may feel that that they’re asking instead of telling. They are concerned with diminishing their authority. After all, a boss is supposed to boss. In fact just the opposite is true. By showing courtesy and respect, your functional authority is greatly increased. You’ll be the type of boss that “people will do anything for.”

There aren’t a lot of foxholes to be dug today, but there are a lot of reports to type, inspections to be completed, and calls to be made. Any of those tasks, from the smallest to the largest, will be done better if they are done by someone who understands why.

There are occasions when there isn’t time or the subject matter is such that even the briefest explanation can’t be made. Your consistent application of “Theory Why” management won’t undermine your authority in these exceptions. A reservoir of goodwill and understanding will have accumulated.

When you just flat issue an instruction your employees will know that it must be important and that you have a good reason for doing so. If you have always given an unending stream of orders without explanation, your people will not be able to discriminate one from another.

It is just plain human nature that the more people understand about the purpose of their work, the better they will perform. That doesn’t mean that you will have a hard time getting someone to do the “grunt” work in your organization.

On every successful team, only one person can score a touchdown at one time. But for each touchdown, there had to have been a number of successful blocks. For each blocker there had to be back up players to practice against. And for each player, there are numerous supporters along the way.

Successful organizations know that team work, not stars, is the key to success. Successful organizations are known to be as strong as their weakest links. Each link in your organization will be as strong so long as you enable it to understand its importance to the overall mission of your organization.

The receptionist must anticipate that the next call could be the customer whose order will exceed the company’s sales goal. The riveter of the airplane’s wing must recognize the importance of that rivet to the national defense and the life of the pilot.

Too often work is assigned without purpose. Providing a “Theory Why” explanation with a work assignment is an important self test. If there isn’t a good explanation, perhaps the job should be eliminated.

Because its your business, put “Theory Why” to work for you. If that seems difficult on occasion, remember that’s WHY they call it work.

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