Do you ever get frustrated that your people just aren’t performing? No matter how many times you explain, no matter what kind of training resources you supply, no matter what threats you make…they just don’t follow through. My tendency in these situations, especially when listening to clients talk about the same struggles over and over again, is to ask “should this person even be on the bus?”
The "bus" is Jim Collins analogy for describing the team. He talks about whether people belong on the bus or not, but also whether people are in the right seats on the bus. As I said, my tendency is to question whether we should keep them on the bus.
But a recent book has caused me to both recognize this tendency and to think better of it. In Extreme Ownership Jocko Willink and Leif Babin talk about the importance of explaining “why” to your team. In the life and death situations encountered by Willink and Babin (both are former Navy Seals) leaders can't afford NOT to explain why. It is critical that everyone understand the instructions AND the leader’s intent. That way, when things go wrong (and they will) individual team members can adjust and still accomplish the leader’s intent.
In two recent situations with clients we asked if anyone had sat down with the employees who were struggling to explain why we were asking them to do things in a certain way. No one had every explained why. At least they couldn't remember doing it.
I think this happens a lot because the leadership team has been struggling with “WHY?” from the very beginning. When we work with the team to develop strategy we are constantly asking "why?" When we judge competing ideas to determine which one is the best we force them to answer a whole series of "why?" questions. So the leadership team understands the why behind everything they are asking the team to do. They've been eating, sleeping and breathing why.
And that is also why they take it for granted when communicating change to their team. They may mention the why in passing, but they focus most of their training, instruction and motivation on the how of new process and procedure. No one outside of the leadership team ever gets to see the week’s or month’s of struggling with why. And had they seen it they might have a better appreciation for how the current change came into being.
Ultimately as leaders we need to own the fact that if people aren’t doing what we have asked them to do it is our fault. Asking someone to get off the bus is almost always the culmination of multiple leadership failures. Owning our responsibility as leaders means taking the time to explain why and giving those we lead some insight into our decision making process.
That comes with risk. Team members my disagree with our why or they may challenge our changes as the best way to get there. But that is GOOD. We don’t want a bunch of robots following our every instruction with zero push back. We think we do at times, but in the long run we know we don’t. So welcome the conversations, welcome the challenge, welcome the debate and slow down enough to explain why. You might find that a lot of the struggles with performance are less difficult to overcome than you first thought.