Never forget to include the “why” when communicating to employees

I read an excellent article in the new issue of American Banker magazine by John Enger about how experiencing past disasters helped bankers deal with the coronavirus crisis (click here to read the entire article).

Some of the past disasters the article mentions include Hurricane Katrina in the southern U.S. in 2005 and the 2017 Thomas Wildfire in Southern California (considered to be the worst in that state’s modern history).

The fascinating American Banker article is quite lengthy but as I was reading it, one paragraph really jumped out at me. In it, the writer quotes a CEO of a Southern California bank.

The CEO said during the mega fire, her bank’s leaders “would make good decisions for the right reasons, but not take the time to communicate the decision or explain the reasoning. Without appropriate information, it’s tough for middle managers to lead their teams or for our front lines to provide high level service to our customers.”

In other words, that bank’s leaders committed a cardinal sin of employee communications and forgot to include the “why”. That’s an extremely valuable lesson.

Not including the “why” in any internal communication can leave workers puzzled as to how management reached a decision or selected a course of action. Without the “why”, workers won’t understand why they’re being asked to do something.

Not including the “why” can easily lead to workers disagreeing with management’s request, noncompliance with the request, a decrease in employee morale or even people quitting your company.

Even though the “why” might seem obvious to senior leaders, it could be because they have a different vantage point of a situation. Or maybe they forget they are operating with much more information than middle managers and front-line workers.

In a Business Writing workshop I teach, I discuss the 11 essential questions to ask yourself when composing a communication. One of those questions is, Have I included the “why”?

It’s like that American Express advertising slogan from the mid-1970s, “Never leave home without it.” I can safely say, Never compose an employee communication without the “why.”

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