How v. Why, and Why Not?

The May issue of the Center For Creative Leadership’s  e-newsletter features a short blurb on a new book by journalist and author Brian Carney. The book is called Freedom, Inc. and the article begins this way:

"We trust people to be adults in so many areas of their lives. But when they walk through the doors at work, we insist they need detailed rules and descriptions for how to do a job."

Carney has explored “the hidden cost of how” – the ways in which top-down, command-and-control companies don’t see opportunities, miss deadlines, and lose customers by employing detailed rules and prescribing exact procedures rather than trusting their employees to get the job done. At best, he argues, the culture of “how” leads to codification of inefficiency; at worst to disengaged and disgruntled employees.

One of the companies he studied was FAVI, a French manufacturer of a specific auto part. Jean-Francois Zobrist, the CEO of FAVI, makes the distinction between “Comment?” companies, or how companies in  French, and “Pourquois?” companies, the companies which ask their employees simply to understand why they do their jobs. Why companies relinquish control, ask their employees to do their work to meet the goal rather than the standards manual, and allow the freedom for innovation at every level.

Zobrist also argues that the culture of how encourages companies to measure all the wrong things: is the employee on time? did she produce up to standard?, rather than the only thing which matters: is the job well done, and is the customer happy?

This simple idea of moving from how to why companies seems so right to me that I wish I were the author. It seems so modern. It fits the model of the move to service industries (v. manufacturing, though we have seen that it works there as well) and of millennial employees (v. “ company men.”) It’s also another way of understanding what a trusted-based company looks like.

Let’s go a step farther, and take why companies – where each employee understands the mission and why she does her job – to why not companies, and ask everyone to question why not do things in a new way? No one knows the job better than the person who’s doing it every day, so let’s tear down those pseudo-inspirational posters of eagles and oceans extolling EFFORT and TEAMWORK, and instead ask in big letters WHY? And WHY NOT? Why am I doing this in the first place, and why not try it a new way?