The ‘Why’ Matters

There’s a story of a man who interviews for a job on a construction crew. The foreman hires the man telling him to show up Monday at 7 a.m. The man shows up and the foreman hands him a shovel and says ‘Dig a hole’. The man looks at the foreman strangely – and the foreman repeats the command: ‘Your job is to dig a hole.’ So, the new hire gets to work, digging and digging. His Monday productivity is pretty good. Tuesday is not bad, Wednesday starts to taper off and by Thursday the man goes home disenchanted. When he arrives to work Friday he throws the shovel at the foot of the foreman saying: ‘I quit.’ The foreman says: ‘Can I ask why?’ ‘Of course’, said the man. ‘Every day I come to work and dig this stupid hole. It’s meaningless work. I don’t have the desire to continue. That’s why I quit.’ The foreman, mad at himself says to the man: ‘Oh wow; I didn’t tell you why you are digging the hole did I?’ To which the man replies: ‘No, you didn’t.’ The foreman says: ‘You are digging the hole where we are going to pour the foundation for the world’s tallest building and your name is going on the cornerstone.’ The man bent down, picked up the shovel, and with a smile on his face dug like crazy.

So, what do we have here? The job description didn’t change. Three words: Dig a hole. What did change is the reason why. Knowing the higher purpose of the work gave the new hire interest, desire, motivation. He felt part of something bigger. He felt he was contributing to a greater goal. He felt part of a team with big plans. He had a purpose.

Are there times at work when as leaders and managers we give a command but forget to explain why? The ultimate ‘why’ is the mission of the organization itself. Letting the team know they are doing what they are doing so as to support the organization’s mission is a pretty good ‘why’. Try it some time. What you’ll get in return is a more motivated workforce, remembering why they are there. Given a purpose, all of us dig down that little extra as we do our jobs…

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