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“Because I Said So”

“We should not only use all the brains we have but all that we can borrow.”...

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In my experience, every company on Earth processes changes to their information and procedures in relatively the same way. When a change is required, someone goes into the manual, handbook, or training document and makes the change. This updated version then pushes out to employees. From there, employees are responsible for making themselves familiar with the new information. Some version of this happens every day at companies all over the world. Nothing in this process is unusual. However, when you think about the ramifications of this process, you realize this process is flawed.

Before jumping into how to do it differently, let’s first touch on why companies do it this way. It’s straightforward. They do it this way because it’s efficient. A change is realized, a new process is created, that new process is relayed to the person making the changes, and the latest change is distributed – very efficient. The problem is that the efficiency of this process is the only positive. And, remember, there is a significant difference between being efficient and being effective. Peter Drucker defined the two by saying, “Efficiency is doing the thing right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing.” More notably, he also said, “There is nothing quite so useless, as doing with great efficiency, something that should not be done at all.” In this case, what “should not be done at all” is viewing distribution as the goal. The actual outcome should be to relay new information to employees in a meaningful way resulting in a change of behavior.

So, what’s wrong with just putting out a change and hoping that your employees read it? The first problem is that, in most revision cycles, the previous content is lost. Specifically, the previous processes are overwritten with the new process or procedure. As an employee, unless the process was memorized, they don’t have visibility to what it was before – especially in the primarily digital world in which we now live. The new version replaces the old version, and the history is not readily available.

The second problem is that, in many cases, there is no context or reason given for the new process or procedure. In other words, why are we making this change? Did something happen where the old way doesn’t work any longer? Providing context behind why the change was made makes the information more exciting and helps the reader retain the information better.

A third problem is keeping the desired outcome a secret. What result does the company hope to achieve by using this new process or procedure? Not including this with the change puts the employee at a significant disadvantage and deprives the company of gathering valuable feedback from its employees. If the new process’s desired outcome is clear, all employees have an easy opportunity to suggest an alternative and perhaps better method. The more employees you have, the more likely it is that one of them has a better way of achieving your desired outcome than you do. Why would you waste this free opportunity to improve operations? As President Woodrow Wilson said, “We should not only use all the brains we have but all that we can borrow.” Good advice.

Finally, not providing all of this additional information has a more profound negative impact. Let’s look at how this plays out with children. We’ve all seen the young child in the grocery store that wants something, and the parent says, “no.” When the child pleads for an explanation, the parent says, “Because I said so.” Here’s what we realized: when a company publishes updates to their processes and procedures without any background or explanation, they are effectively telling their employees “because I said so.” As adults, we don’t (usually) throw tantrums and storm away, but most company revisions would cause this behavior in a child. Conversely, when you provide the history, context, and desired outcome along with the change, employees feel that you trust them. They feel empowered. They talk about it with their peers. Not only do the changes make an impact, but the company flourishes as a result. When you think about it this way, you have to ask, “Why haven’t we been doing this all along?”

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