Understand the 'Why'

With any new useful knowledge that we encounter a change in behavior usually follows, if we decide that the body of knowledge is useful or will lead to better productivity. We then try to follow the steps/methods that we were trained in, often seeking feedback from the people who are considered experts. It is not unusual for the trainers to have doubts on whether the best practices and methodologies that they have shared with the participants will survive after they move out of the teams. Is is also not unusual for managers to worry about the longevity of the lessons learned by the team and their inculcation in day-to-day work, once the trainers are gone: The other side of the story is the execution of the practice. For trainers it's a nightmare when (s)he starts getting questions like:
  • Do we always have to do this?
  • Can we do without these steps in the process?
Even worst is the scenario where you get to hear:
  • This will never work here.
  • It looks good on paper, but in practice no one will follow it.
The result, usually, is not pretty - it's an ache for both trainers and managers; frustration for consultants, and a fear of failure and sunk cost for the managers. Two lessons that I have learned in the past few weeks have been very valuable for me to avoid these problems. 1. Always, reinforce the 'Why' - There are two big advantages of re-enforcing the 'why'. First, if practitioners know the reason they have to do a certain thing, they'll always remember to do it. Second, if the practitioners understand the value that we are aiming for, there are good chances that they will experiment with other options, and there are fair chances that they'll innovate. 2. Use Socratic method - Consultants have it in their blood to solve problems, cut through the confusion and solve problems. This, however, may not be the best style if it is carried out for long. A switch of strategy is essential to learning, where the consultant should start asking questions in order to answer questions. This not only increases the confidence of the team members once they find themselves solving their own problems, the quality of information/idea exchange just shoots through the roof because the level of questions that end up being thrown to consultants really deserve the top dollars they are being paid. Understanding the 'Why' had always been my focus, but I never was as big in passing it along as I now am. This came out of a meeting that I had with a client manager who wanted to ensure that the system remains greased after we had left.