Emphasize the Why

by Kim Turnage

August 23, 2017BlogEngagement

Consider the responses of three people laying bricks. When asked, “What are you doing?”

The first person replies, “I’m laying bricks.”

The second person says, “I’m part of a team building a large, intricate brick wall that requires great skill.”

To that same question, the third person replies, “I’m just one of many people working together here to build a cathedral where people will get married, christen their babies and lay their loved ones to rest.”

Which of these people do you think is most motivated to do great work?

Which one is most likely to go above and beyond to make sure the work is done right?

The third bricklayer, right? Why? Because that person is working for a bigger, clearer more compelling ‘why.’

Helping people advance from ‘what’ to ‘why’ brings a greater sense of meaning and passion to their work – and their lives. Larry Sternberg, Kimberly Shirk and I recently discussed this idea as we shared several stories from Lyft (shared from a recent HBR article), Cancer Treatment Centers of America and The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company that are great examples of emphasizing the why.

You can listen to the podcast of that discussion here.

If you’re a manager, are you emphasizing the why?
Notice we’re not talking about mentioning the why or discussing the why…but emphasizing the why. Here are a few questions to ask yourself (and we discuss these on the podcast).

  • What stories can you tell today that emphasize the why for your people and your organization?
  • How can you start collecting and curating more stories that emphasize the why?
  • What are the benefits of emphasizing the why?
  • What are the dangers of not emphasizing the why?

Think about the times in your life when someone has inspired you with a big, clear, compelling why. Think about how it made you feel. Think about how it impacted your performance. And ask yourself…how could I make a difference by emphasizing the why for someone else?

We’d love to see your stories and comments in response to any or all of these questions. Please do share!