Success Strategies - October/November - 2019


The person who only knows how, may have a job, but the person who understands why, will do it better. “Why?” is a question that can only be adequately answered with a statement of purpose. Asking “Why do we do this?” is the same as asking, “What’s the purpose of doing this?” Most people don’t inquire about the purpose. Day after day, people simply do what’s put before them without thinking to challenge the value of doing it. We call that bureaucratic behavior.

There are bureaucrats in all lines of work – not just in government agencies. These folks are committed to process, not outcome. If there’s a rule posted, they follow it to the letter. The spirit of the policy, (why it was put in place originally) seems irrelevant to bureaucrats.

For instance, the sign says, “Business hours are 8am to 5pm!” Therefore, come rain, snow, brimstone, or pestilence; they don’t start early or stay late. If you’re in line at 4pm and dutifully stayed in line for an hour to do your business with the clerk, at 5pm when it’s closing time, you’d reasonably expect them to accommodate you. But a bureaucrat would simply put up a “Closed” sign and walk away, ignoring your needs. Maddening ain’t it?

The reason that organizations make rules and establish policies is to improve outcomes. If you want to stop a bad practice, you implement a new policy – no loaning of tools or taking tools home. OK, with this policy in place, you can better control the loss of tools, but are there no exceptions? Of course, there are! Any number of situations could arise that would make loaning a tool or taking one home a great idea, but not without a special reason, a why. In other words, every how must have a why that makes it okay to do or worth doing.

Look at the policies, work rules, and operating standards in your shop. As you examine each of them, ask “Why is this important?” If you can’t figure out why it is worth doing or not doing, then maybe it is a rule you could eliminate.

It’s a good practice to regularly challenge your processes, rules, and policies. This will often lead to significant improvements. Why do you open at this hour? How does this affect the workers? The customers? Your suppliers?

Why do you have these procedures? Is it because “Homer always did it that way,” or because it’s the best way to assure quality and safety? Why do you keep your files where they are? Would workflow improve if you changed something? Why does this worker do that task? Could someone else do it faster or better or with less interruption to the other work?

There’s an old story about a little girl whose mom taught her to always cut off the ends of a roast before putting it in the roasting pan. She asked, “Why?” and her mom said, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” She persisted, “But Why have we always done that?” Mom said, “I don’t know, but that’s what your grandmother taught me to do.” The little girl then went to Grandma and asked the same question. Grandma replied, “Honey, when your mom was a child, I had to cut off the ends of the roast so it would fit into my little roasting pan.”

So, what started out as an accommodation for the size of Grandma’s roasting pan ended up being a family tradition! How many of the daily routines in your shop are like that? You’ll never know until you start asking “Why?”

If you do, why do you leave GEARS Magazine on the breakroom counter each month? Because it increases the likelihood that your team will read it. Why read it? Because you’ll learn ways to save effort, improve results, and reduce waste. Additionally, it has stories and articles that give you new ideas and make you feel better about what you do.

By the way, how many of you leave GEARS Magazine and other industry periodicals in your waiting room? If you think about it, there are many articles in these publications that you probably don’t want your customers to read. For example, articles about selling, pricing, profitability, employee problems, technical challenges facing our industry, etc. aren’t written for your customers – they’re written for you.

Why should more than one person from your shop go to EXPO? Because it is both an uplifting and educational experience, and people who share the experience will increase the value of the learning for each other. Besides, you can also share your best ideas and see your colleagues who truly get what we do in this industry.

Why wear clothing with logos and badges on them instead of just ordinary work clothes? Because it provides a sense of identity and a source of pride, like a military uniform. It demonstrates that you think of yourself as a professional.

Why keep work areas clean? Because it increases safety, efficiency, reduces waste and lost items, provides a sense of pride, and it’s reassuring to customers.

Find ways to ask, “Why?” throughout your day, and you’ll soon find that you have a greater sense of purpose in what you do.

People who feel a purpose in what they do will add more value to what they do.

Besides, why not?

Jim Cathcart is a long-time friend of ATRA and a regular contributor to GEARS. He helps people succeed by keeping them focused on the Why in what they do, and by showing them better and better ways to get things done. Jim is a professional speaker and seminar leader on the subject of How To Grow Your Success. He can be contacted at His latest book is The Self Motivation Handbook and is available wherever books are sold. ISBN: 978-1-62865-633-6.