What Your Employees Have in Common with 4-Year-Olds

It was super annoying when we did it as kids. Our dads, if they had any hair remaining, probably wanted to tear it out. Our moms were exasperated, even wondering to themselves in darker moments why they succumbed to that sparkle in your daddy’s eye a few years before. Eventually, it would culminate with one or both parents exclaiming with a mix of frustration and desperation, “Because!

The question of why has been around for a while. Philosophers have grappled with it for centuries and centuries, and barely-out-of-diapers kiddos seem to have an insatiable desire for an answer to the question as well. We ask them to do something. Why? Well, because I asked you to. But why? If you’re hearing a child’s voice in your head right now, you’re not crazy–you’re probably just a parent.

And here’s the thing: People’s desire to know why doesn’t go away when they get older and, say, work in your organization.

Ideally, the answer to the why question drives what your organization and its employees do. Why is like that point on the horizon that your organization fixes its collective sight on as it continues on its journey.

The trouble is that too many organizations don’t have great answers for the why question. The answer to that question is what provides context and meaning for what you and the rest of your organization does every day, so it’s imperative that you–and the rest of your team–know the answer.

Take for example an organization whose purpose, simply stated, is to “[Work] with people and communities to help them thrive and prosper.” Even a casual observer can see that this organization is very obviously guided by their answer to the why question; and their city is better off for them being there. Their corporate social responsibility has evolved over time to the point that it’s more than a program–it’s the lifestyle of their employees and an integral and integrated part of their organizational culture. They constantly volunteer in their community. They invest significant amounts of money into developing their community, serving the under-served, and in short, doing exactly what their answer to the why question says–helping their community, and the people within it, thrive and prosper. The specific line of business they’re in is but a vehicle to help them accomplish the why. That organization? It’s Vancity, a Canadian credit union. They’re in the financial services biz, but that’s not their why. It’s a means to an end.

So what about your organization? What’s your answer to the why question? Do your employees know the answer? Better yet, do they see the organization living out the answer every day? If an organization really gets it, and they’ve answered the why question well, the why subsequently informs the what, when, where, and how of the organization as well.

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