When I first starting working in the building trades, the guys that I worked around were a real cast of characters. I was a youngster so most, if not all, of the guys were older than me. The one thing that I noticed was that the majority of the guys really had fun at work. There were plenty of practical jokes, laughter and comic relief so the day went by quickly. This wasn’t because the work was easy. Construction work is hot, dirty, sweaty and tiring. There is nothing easy about it. Yet, surrounded with the right cast of characters, the day went by pretty quickly and we really had fun.
The other remarkable thing I noticed was the way the older guys would take the time to teach the younger guys how to properly do the work. There were no hidden secrets or protecting of territories. The older guys would openly share their knowledge and take the new recruits under their wings. They taught, nurtured and celebrated when the youngsters began to excel in the work. They took the time away from their work and actually showed them how to do it. And most importantly they explained why you must do the work in a particular way.
Sadly, I think we are losing ground in both of these areas. I see tradesmen today who are addicted clock watchers who are simply counting down the minutes to the end of the day. There is less laughter and more tension on the jobsite. Many of the most skilled tradesmen are reluctant to share their knowledge of the trade because it takes additional effort or they have the warped fear that they may be training their replacement. It gives me great pain watching this occur when I know how it can be. How it was. They don’t realize that you can actually have fun at work. And most importantly, they have lost touch with the satisfaction that comes from training up the next generation.
I have a new recruit at work. He is young and bright and has an excellent future in front of him. He is learning and is very inquisitive. We are extremely busy so I have been confronted with the tension of just giving him the “What” and not the “Why” because it simply takes more time.
See- the “What” is easy. Do this, do that. Don’t ask why just do it!
I know there are managers who feel like the “What” is enough. They will figure it out. I don’t have time to explain everything.
They are so wrong!
You must do the why! You must take the time to explain the why!
This is the way I see it. Life is a puzzle. All the pieces need to fit together. If you fail to give the why, it is like trying to shove a puzzle piece in a spot where it doesn’t belong. You fail to see why something is important and how it fits in the overall system. You are simply following directions. Yet when you do the why- it’s similar to reaching the end of the puzzle- when you can quickly put many pieces in place very quickly.
It begins to make sense. You can see the big picture. Once you have the big picture you can also begin to see beyond the picture– you can expand your horizon. This is how innovation occurs. This is the why theory.
The why is the pathway to growth. I tell my gang at work that I can’t think for everyone. It’s just impossible. They must think for themselves. They must take ownership and be the author of both problemsolving and process improvement. Yet, without answering the why questions, they are unable to comprehend the complete picture and ill equipped to make quality decisions.
So take the time to do the why. Put away your agenda and pour into others. They need the why. We all need the why. When I started out, the old guys understood this. They knew they were making us all stronger by sharing their knowledge. Don’t underestimate the importance of your role in this!