When I was at 3M, I was assigned to a team to look at the quality and profitability of a longtime product.  When the team leader assembled the team, he quickly learned that many of the operators didn’t know what the product was or what it did even though some of them had been making it for years.  So the team leader arranged for a product demonstration.  


The product was a concrete deck coating.  During the demonstration, members of the team recognized applications of the product in real life that they and their families had seen, but had never been aware of before.  The operators were noticeably excited and some even got emotional.  One operator pointed out, “I spend a lot of time at work and now I can show my family what I do”.  


After the demonstration, our team was pulled into different directions before we could work on the quality and cost of making the product.  We reassembled a few months later to restart the project and took some new baselines for quality and cost.  We were surprised to see that since the product demonstration, the quality for the product had improved dramatically and the cost to make the product had decreased significantly.  We hadn’t changed anything other than showing the people who make the product why they were making it.  


Knowing why we do what we do is an important yet often forgotten part of our work.  When we know why we do what we do, we do it better.


We recently worked with a manufacturing client who makes whiskey barrels.  While out visiting their Kentucky Cooperage, our team took an extra day to tour the Maker’s Mark Distillery.  During the tour, the tour guide mentioned their valuable partner in the Independent Stave Company (our client) multiple times.  Even though we hadn’t started our work with Independent Stave, our team felt a wave of pride as we sampled the bourbon and the tour guide talked about the importance of the barrel process in the flavor profile.


We shared our experience with the workers at Independent Stave and they were naturally excited.  One supervisor shared that it was nice to hear the impact they make and so easy to forget.


One of the easiest things you can do for your team is to help them to remember why they do what they do.  Here are a few ways to do that.


  1. Share Customer Stories – If you don’t get a lot of customer feedback, you should seek it out and share it with your team.  Numbers are good, but stories are more powerful.  
  2. Expose Workers to the Other Parts of the Business – Many workers play a relatively limited role in the production of their product or execution of their service.  Allow workers from different departments to share with each other what they do and how it impacts the final product or service.
  3. Show the Score – Too many companies fail to share the results of their work with their employees.  Work to create what the Great Game of Business calls a “line of sight” between what employees do and how it impacts the company and then how the company’s success impacts the employee.  Don’t assume that employees care about profit.  You may have to share how profit impacts them.
  4. Create a Strategic Plan – A production manager kept a productivity chart on his wall in his office showing daily performance.  An employee asked him how they were doing and the manager looked back at the huge chart on his wall.  “Well, some days are better than others”, he shrugged.  People need context for their performance.  Create a strategic plan with clear Key Objectives and a plan for the year so that you can compare progress towards the plan.  
  5. Establish Values – Too many organizations haven’t spent time articulating their mission, vision, or values.  Having these items defined gives leaders daily opportunities to refer to their values when making decisions.  The mission, vision, and values become language around the “why”.  
  6. Leaders Should Refer to the Why – Notice that I say leaders and not managers.  Anyone on a team wishing to be a positive influence can do so simply by reminding the team from time to time why they are doing what they do.  We work with a utility and I recently observed a lineman remind the rest of his crew that the reason they work so much overtime is to serve the community.  These little reminders make a big difference and aren’t reserved just for managers.