Do employees have the big picture?

by Sheila Margolis on January 26, 2010

Prosper Using the “Why,” the “How,” and the “What”

How would you describe the people in your organization?

  • Do employees genuinely care about the organization? Do they feel a connection to its contribution and its unique character?
  • Do valued employees want to continue working there? Do they identify with the organization? Do they feel invested in its future?
  • Do employees regularly put forth extra effort to help the company succeed? Are they adaptive? Focused? Persistent in their efforts? Are they willing to take on added tasks when they see the need?

Work today is different from the past.

If this sounds too idealistic, maybe it’s because organizations of the past have used a different model for work. In an environment of command and control, the focus was on following rules, with little place for personal initiative. But today, that model cannot thrive in our global, highly competitive, constantly changing, and transparent world. Successful organizations today are characterized by high energy, a sense of urgency, focus, passion, and perseverance.

So how do you help your organization generate the enthusiasm that propels it toward prosperity? The key is to share a—bigger picture—view of work to guide people as they create the success each organization seeks.

Everyone in the organization must see the “big picture.”

As research consistently suggests, people must see the big picture in order to appreciate and find meaning in the work they do each day. If an employee’s daily activities contribute to the organization’s Purpose and Goals, then work feels more meaningful. If a bricklayer only sees his work as the task of laying bricks—without an understanding of the bigger picture—he might not see the future contribution that the new construction will offer. By seeing the organization from a broader perspective, employees can focus on outcomes that make a difference.

To reframe work, take a new focus by sharing the big picture. When you target the basics of the organization and the basics of the human spirit, it yields a surprising, positive impact.

So what is your organization all about? To get a big picture of it, stop for a moment and think about the organization from the perspective of the “Why,” the “How,” and the “What.” This information provides the big picture view that can guide your prosperity.

The “Why”

First, to see the big picture, share the “Why” of your organization.

The Purpose is the “Why” of your organization.

Think for a moment about the Purpose of your organization. Why does your organization exist? Why is the work you do important? The Purpose is the contribution that the organization and its members provide to society through their collective work.

The Purpose is a source of meaning that focuses members’ passions on a shared cause. Businesses exist to make a profit. But they also exist to make a difference. Through work, individuals can make a difference—in a way that they might not be able to do alone—and they can be a part of a meaningful legacy.

Ask two key questions to uncover the organization’s Purpose

To define the Purpose, ask these simple questions to people at work: First ask, “What is the purpose of this organization?” And to follow-​​up, then ask, “Why is that important?” It may require you to ask the second question several times, but soon you will uncover the collective contribution of the organization—its Purpose.

Each person must feel connected with the cause and see how they contribute to it.

Meaningful work captures the human heart. When a mission is personally meaningful, it energizes emotions that propel success. To achieve the deepest sense of connection to your organization, be sure members understand and feel a personal commitment to the cause that the organization seeks to accomplish.

Employees must view the Purpose as personally meaningful and important work. Additionally, they must understand how their daily activities help to achieve it. Individuals must feel like they are an integral part of an important journey, a compelling adventure.

Communicate the Purpose and live by it.

Once the “Why” question has been defined, talk about it often to ensure that people are living it. Are you hiring people who genuinely care about the cause? Are your daily activities contributing to that Purpose? Meaningful work leads to a prosperous life for the individual and the organization.

The “How”

Next, to see the big picture, share the “How” of your organization.

The “How” is the organization’s guiding principles.

The “How” is another important component of the organization. The “How” is the collection of values that capture what the organization stands for and its unique way of delivering on the Purpose. The “How” consists of several layers of guiding principles that together form your competitive advantage. Your aim is for everyone in the organization to understand and act in ways that continuously reinforce these principles.

The “How” creates the mindset that influences attitudes, drives behavior, and thus, characterizes the organization and its members. It’s not just what you do in life that matters; it’s how you do it that can make the difference. Behavior is a reflection of something deep within the person.

There are three layers of “How.”

Defining an organization’s values is essential for delivering on those values in a consistent manner. There are three layers of the “How” because when you talk about values guiding how you do your work, you are talking about 1) distinctive values—the organization’s enduring Philosophy, 2) strategic values—the organization’s strategic Priorities, and 3) engaging values—the Priorities that promote an engaged workforce.

The first “How” is the organization’s distinctive values—its Philosophy. This most central of the “How” values is the prime, distinguishing value that guides how employees uniquely do their work. Philosophy is like the personality or character of the organization because it is a product of the organization’s founding and has endured over the years.

Uncovering the organization’s Philosophy requires looking into the soul of the organization to define its essential nature. The Philosophy is the fundamental guiding principle that captures the character of the organization, since its founding. Thus, to understand your organization’s Philosophy, think about what special attribute the founder of your organization possessed that influenced the character of the organization. Or consider what makes your organization feel different from other organizations doing similar work.

The Philosophy tends to be an enduring “How”—it was the way things were at the beginning; it describes the way things still are today; and if this Philosophy ever changed, the organization would feel like a different place.

The second “How” of the organization is the strategic Priorities. These are the values that further guide how employees do their work. But more specifically, strategic Priorities are the values that will enable the organization to achieve its Vision and Goals.

To determine your strategic Priorities, you must contemplate: To effectively achieve our Vision and Goals, what standards should guide how we do our work? And what key values, if followed, would help the organization compete and thrive?

Strategic Priorities may change as the strategy of the organization alters. Understanding these values, keeps everyone focused on how they must behave to accomplish the Vision and Goals of the organization.

The final “How” of the organization is the universal Priorities. Universal Priorities are values common to organizations seeking employees who deliver exceptional performance. Organizations that are grounded in these beliefs about individuals and the human spirit will build organizations where people are emotionally attached to the organization and passionate about their work there. Living the universal Priorities creates a culture of highly motivated employees.

The universal Priorities consist of the following five values: meaning, caring, autonomy, openness, and achievement. First, when employees know that through their work, they are making a contribution to a cause that personally matters to them, they feel more engaged in it. Being passionate about the work you do and knowing that you are making a difference leads one to the feeling of living a meaningful life. Next, because workers are social beings—a constant across cultures—the value of caring is essential.  To build a caring community, there must first be trust. And trust is grounded in a workplace that is fair, honest, and non-​​threatening. Living in such a nurturing and supportive environment, promotes engagement. Third is the value of autonomy—a feeling of control, ownership, involvement, and self-​​management, with personal responsibility that such freedom implies. The feeling of being the captain of one’s ship nurtures feelings of engagement. Fourth is an inclusive culture of openness where information flows in all directions, where individuals listen and share. Transparency nurtures authenticity and certainty. And fifth is the value of achievement. Learning and personal growth contribute to self-​​esteem and personal achievement desired by individuals.

Work is more than an economic transaction; addressing the social and human side of the worker is key to achieving optimal performance. Organizations that live by these universal Priorities create cultures of excellence.

Although universal Priorities are not considered differentiators, to live these values nurtures an enriching and motivating workplace that stimulates exceptional efforts and heightened loyalty. If these are values core to your organization, they must be expressed, discussed, and shared. They contribute to your culture because they further guide how you do your work.

The “Why” and the “How” are your organization’s Core Culture.

Combining the purposeful “Why with the “How” of the organization constitutes the organizations Core Culture governing action and guiding all aspects of work life. The “Why” and the “How” define the essence of your culture.

But the power of the “Why” and the “How” can only be realized when these core principles are communicated, shared, and embedded in the hearts and minds of the organization’s members. The “Why” and the “How” offer a higher calling and guidance system for members to share.

The “What”

To see the big picture, know the “What” of your organization.

The “What” is the organization’s Vision and Goals.

The final ingredient of the big picture is the “What” of the organization. When employees find meaning in the “Why” of the organization and when they feel comfortable living by the principles of the “How” of the organization, they must be sure their actions are directed at accomplishing the organization’s Vision and Goals– the “What” of the organization. A clear picture of the Vision and Goals establishes the results needed to achieve business success.

The “What” is the strategy of the organization, constructed with an understanding of the global conditions that impact the organization. The more employees understand the external environment, the more they will internalize the journey to achieve success and be able to make adjustments as changes occur. The actions to support the long-​​term health of the organization must be understood and used to guide the actions of all employees.

Does everyone share a clear picture of the Vision for the organization—a future picture that is concise, credible, a stretch—but not too much of a stretch? Can everyone see it and will they know when they have achieved it? If two groups have puzzle pieces, the group that sees the box cover with the final puzzle image can complete the puzzle quicker. The Vision will drive actions to achieve results.

And what strategic Goals must be accomplished to position the organization for success? Organizational Goals must be defined so all understand the actions that will yield desired results.

The “What” provides quantifiable measures to gauge success.

The Vision and Goals that shaped the strategic Priorities must also have quantifiable measures to gauge success. Members of the organization must be able to make smart choices in how they spend their time. With a clear Vision and Goals—the “What” of the organization—expressed in ways that are descriptive and quantifiable, each member can construct individual objectives for contribution and gauge how well they are making a difference through their work.

The “Why” + “How” + “What” = The Big Picture

Use the “Why,” the “How,” and the “What” to drive success.

When employees connect with and value the “Why” and the “How” of the organization, and when they focus on accomplishing the “What” of the organization, then they have the big picture. No longer do employees have to be micromanaged. Motivated by the “Why,” guided by the “How,” and targeted to achieve the “What,” they can evaluate their daily activities to determine what they should be doing and what they should stop doing. Employees can monitor their contribution to achieving outcomes that support the organization’s Vision and Goals. The “Why,” the “How,” and the “What” provide the lens to drive organizational success.

In its most basic form, an organization is all about having a connection with the “Why,” living by the “How,” and accomplishing the “What.” For people to thrive and for the organization to prosper, be sure all in the organization use the big picture to guide their daily work.

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