It is all about why, not just how

Back in my college days, I was told that “If you know how you will always have a job but if you know why you will be the boss.” That advice has stood the test of time. Often I will meet someone new on the job making a long list of notes reminding them how to do a task. Often there is a complete process document available that describes all the steps, which is ignored. My granddaughter would say: what is going on here?

When you are new to a job or task, it is understandable that you want to understand all the steps. I even understand the creating of lots of notes. What I never understood is why many people never attempt to understand why they are doing something.

The problem with reams of notes documenting how to do something is if one step changes or something is added you have to start over. I would see people getting frustrated on the job because a step no longer works. They are lost. Not all the time, but depending on the complexity this can happen. Some combination of the two approaches seems to me to be the best solution.

The missing element to understanding why is an understanding of the big picture. Let’s say that you have been hired as a legal secretary at a law firm. Your assignment is to send out a letter to the client. You have a case management system that reminds you to send the letter, and in most cases, that same system will generate a letter for you. Built into this process are many steps that include pulling up a template, gathering information from the case file, sending a file to a printer, and mailing the letter. But what happens if a step fails? The template is missing, the case management file was not populated, the printer is offline, etc.

That legal secretary will have a job, but someone that understands the big picture will be the boss. Now, I am not the boss, but many times I will get called in when something does not work. I arrive on the scene, and after a few minutes, I say something like, turn the printer on. Everyone looks on in amazement. That was oversimplified, but not by much.

You want to be the team leader or the boss; you need to know more than just how to do the job.