The people in your company who know How are, no doubt, very important. In fact, the company can’t operate without them. They’re the people who come in every day and get things done. Many of them are incredibly good at their jobs. They might even be some of the best at what they do, but that doesn’t mean they’re capable of moving beyond their current jobs without something more.
Then there are the people who know Why. You know who I’m talking about. The ones who just plain ol’ get it. Sure, they understand their own jobs, but they just seem to understand how all the pieces fit together. They understand why the company does what it does at a macro level. They understand what is really important to the company’s success. They’re the ones who can see the forest for the trees.
And here’s the rub, sometimes the people who know How are better at their jobs than someone who knows Why — but the ones who know Why are more valuable to the organization. It drives the people who know How crazy!
Often, when someone who knows How becomes highly proficient at a task, he begins to believe he should be promoted or be put in the position to call the shots. The thinking goes, “I know more about what I’m doing than my boss does. Why should I have to report to her any longer?”
What they’re missing is the Why factor. They don’t know why certain things are important. They don’t understand why the company must do certain things if it is to be successful. Sure, they can perform specific tasks extremely well, but they don’t see the big picture.
Think about it. Does the best accountant in the firm always rise to the level of partner? Does the best litigator get chosen to be the managing partner of the law firm? Does the smartest engineer become CEO? In more cases that not, they don’t.
You see, it takes more than outstanding knowledge or skills related to a specific job. That accountant needs to master debits and credits to become part of the company’s leadership. That litigator needs more than courtroom skills to lead the law firm. And it takes more than brilliant engineering skills to head up a company.
Now, here’s the million dollar question: Can you teach someone to “know Why”?
My squishy answer is, “It depends.” First, it depends on whether they want to understand. Some do, some don’t. My older sister is brilliant — much smarter than I am. She’s spent her entire accounting career with the same firm and is quite content in her job. And she knows How. Boy, does she know How. But she doesn’t know Why and doesn’t care to. Her bosses love her because she does a great job, but she doesn’t aspire to more. And that’s OK. It works for her.
And, even some who want to know Why never will. Some people just aren’t capable of understanding Why. Often it’s those who lack the leadership skills to look beyond themselves who get stuck on How and can’t get to Why. And others just aren’t capable of putting all the pieces together. They understand their own piece extremely well, but they can’t see the importance of the other pieces.
But just because not everyone wants to know Why or is capable of understanding Why, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to teach them. You see, the more people in your organization who understand Why, the better it will be. You want people to look beyond their own jobs and see How the various pieces fit together. And the ones who really get it will turn into your rising stars.
I say it’s worth the time and effort to try to teach everyone in your organization Why. Don’t assume they won’t get it. Don’t discount those people who it doesn’t come to naturally. Work at it and I think you’ll be surprised at the results.