Of the many content areas workplace communication can be divided into, few are more prone to difficulties than organizational choices and decisions. The who’s, what’s, and where’s of decisions are typically conveyed with acceptable clarity and consistency. The rationale behind them, however, is not.
In practical terms, this means that while employees typically receive the operational outlines of upcoming changes—this project is being cut, that department is being reorganized—the reasons necessitating those changes — the why behind them — will often remain a mystery.
As a result, employees are able to follow the narrow instructions they are given, but are powerless to go beyond this task or this job. They are therefore unable to help leadership accomplish the higher-level goals that those instructions were designed to achieve.
A leader might, for example, ask that a lamp be removed from a table. His employees can comply with that request easily enough, but unless they are told why—the room is being redecorated and the lamp is the wrong shade of yellow, the desk needs to be dusted, more light is needed in another part of the room—they cannot undertake other initiatives that would further the leader’s ultimate aim.
Without more information about the rationale behind the decision, they cannot take it upon themselves to remove the yellow potted plant as well, or retrieve the duster from the closet, or turn on an overhead light. They can do nothing but wait for their next directive.
Explaining the thinking behind decisions also helps employees’ participation become increasingly sophisticated. It allows employees at all levels to gain a management-view of organizational challenges, which enables them to make greater and more effective contributions to solving future problems.
As a leader, then, you can have enormous impact on your organization simply by communicating the reasons underlying decision as widely as you communicate the decisions themselves.
Spelling out the “why” of choices makes the decision-making process more transparent, helps build trust, and helps employees accept decisions that may be difficult.