Focus on Why, Not How

Today, more and more companies recognize the importance of engaging team learning. But a logical question often is, “what should that learning look like?”

This series of blogs spells things out pretty clearly: do this when building team learning, and don’t do that. These best (and worst) practices provide a framework for effective and engaging learning that increases employee productivity and confidence.

Do This: focus on “why”

“Why do my employees need to know information X or skill Y?” can be tough question to tackle. Think of the answer to that question as a funnel, with broader, more generic responses leading to more refined questions that get to the very heart of the matter. Start with these essential questions:

  • Why does our company exist?
    This answer should explain the company’s mission—its very reason for being. For example, Nike’s mission statement is “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”
  • Why do we produce the goods or services we do?
    Answering this question will explain why an organization acts in certain ways to accomplish that mission. Nike doesn’t have an official vision statement, but they strive to make the best equipment possible for athletes, inspiring them into action and better performance.
  • Why do we need this division, position, and person to meet our mission and vision?
    With the first two overarching questions answered, how can each division, position, and person orient their function toward those overall organizational goals. Nike’s mission and vision should be the standard for every position in the company. How does a salesperson embody Nike’s dedication to making the best equipment and tools for athletes?

Asking “why” questions that start at a high-level and dive down to the individual contributor level will more clearly direct training—and focus Learners. Jodi Schafer, owner and general partner of Human Resource Management, explains:

Understanding “the why” gives [employees] a deeper understanding of their role in the organization and what the organization is all about. It empowers them with problem-solving skills and allows them to evaluate processes and root out inefficiencies.

Explaining this “why” also empowers industrious employees to take initiative for the good of the company’s mission. An employee who knows why your company makes its products or offers its services can uncover new ways to do their job better—for the benefit of your company and customers. Empowering employees with this level of trust and autonomy increases their engagement, productivity, and tenure.

Not That: don’t focus on “how”

Teaching employees “how to fish” is certainly essential to their ability to perform a job itself—particularly for entry-level roles. If someone fills a customer support position, for example, they certainly need to know how to answer the phone.

But problems arise when training stops there. Only training employees on doing specific tasks, without any context about the tasks’ importance to the overall company model, breeds stagnation. If reps are trained only to answer phones and log support tickets, they’ll likely only do that.

However, if support reps understand they are expected to solve customer issues, those same employees might go out of their way to call customers back with an answer. This is how companies can teach their employees to fish for themselves. Most employees won’t operate with that level of autonomy when given only skills-based training. Instead, they must clearly understand expectations, backed by organizational mission and vision messaging, to take that next step.

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