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More How and Why; Less What

Submitted by  on April 10th, 2011

Recognize This: Recognition is a powerful tool for reinforcing the “how” and the “why” as well as the “what.”

Employees usually know the “what.” They know they must achieve X goal by Y date or they will be dinged on their performance review.

Employees understanding is much less for the “how” and the “why” – precisely why it’s important that they achieve X goal by Y date and exactly how would be the best way to do it in keeping with the company values. Which approach – pushing the “what” only or reinforcing the “how” and the “why” as well – is more effective?

Bob Brennan, president and CEO of Iron Mountain, explains the difference this way:

“We have a set of core values that are important to us, and they’re mostly around candor — really to generate speed, action orientation and a sense of security. We’ve got 21,000 people, so we have a lot of people who are managing others. What are the traits we want in leaders? How do we help them understand in very descriptive terms what we expect on a day-to-day basis? That’s different from driving clarity around outcomes, or how they link to broader strategy.”

WHAT – defines the goal to be achieved.
WHY – gives meaning and purpose to their efforts, a key factor of employee engagement and motivation.
HOW – defines acceptable parameters. For example, if social responsibility is a company value, then faster delivery will not be tolerated if doing so harms the environment.

The hallmark of truly strategic recognition is a focus on reinforcing the “why” and the “how” as well as the “what.” What kind of recognition do you experience at work? Are you recognized only when a goal is achieved or is the manner in which you achieved the goal equally important?

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