Ever wonder how little kids learn so fast? I believe that one secret they have is their incessant use of the word “WHY”. Think about it. How many exhausting conversations have you had with a three-year-old who keeps asking “WHY?” in response to every answer you give. This sincere and inexhaustible desire to understand helps every youngster fill his fertile mind.
There is an old Southern saw that says:
“Those who know WHAT to do will always have jobs. Those who know WHY will be their leaders.”
We used this approach to build an outstanding HR staff to support the dramatic growth of Marion Laboratories during the ten year period when the company grew from $100 million in sales to $1 Billion with EPS growth of 50% per year for eight years in a row. Employment during that period grew from around 1100 to 3400, and the company’s productivity levels led its industry.
Early on in that growth, it became clear that soon the new people would quickly outnumber the seasoned associates on board who knew and lived the unique culture that had enabled success. The HR staff was a critical element in helping new managers and new associates learn the unique philosophies used to manage the company’s operations, so we used the big “WHY” to encourage new HR staff members to understand more than just the WHAT of Marion’s policies and philosophies.
By encouraging people to ask WHY, and by anticipating these questions, we were able to accelerate their learning and their ability to help others learn and understand. We even put the quote on posters in HR offices to remind each other of the importance of this thinking.
We also discouraged the use of “It’s our policy” as the answer to questions. We trained staff to explain WHY that was our policy. We even structured policies to include an opening statement of purpose in each policy that was published.
I am convinced that this one strategy is a key reason that no less than a dozen of the Marion HR staff during those years have gone on to become the senior HR executive for major national and multi-national corporations around the globe. They already had developed the habit of focusing on the key element of any HR policy or action—understanding WHY!
Try understanding “WHY”; it may help you accelerate the development of your own staff!