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Align Your Team on the 'Why' Axis

Why are your employees doing whatever they're doing? At the base, there' really only one answer.

Here's a simple strategy for making sure you're communicating your company's mission effectively -- and determining whether employees are taking that message to heart.

It comes courtesy of Asana cofounder Justin Rosenstein, with whom I spoke last week in a wide-ranging conversation about leadership, management, and corporate culture. This particular strategy hits on all three, addressing that sweet Venn diagram space Rosenstein calls clarity, or that we could call organizational alignment.

Why Ask Why?

Rosenstein's advice boils down to this:

Approach an employee and ask what they're doing. They'll answer, most likely in the simplest terms. "I'm cleaning up some loose code." "I'm tracking traffic to the checkout page over the last three months." "I'm restocking the top shelf." You get the idea.

Ask them why they're doing that. If you can push them past "Because it's my job," you'll get a slightly bigger-picture answer. "Because the current code is interfering with the software," or "Because it will tell us how well we're converting and how this compares to last year."

Ask why again. "Because it's key to the project I'm working on." And again. "Because the project is key to our Q1 goals." And again. At the end of the chain, the employee should ultimately wind up answering with your company's mission statement. At Asana, which makes teamwork and productivity tools for companies, Rosenstein says, that would sound like: "Because it's going to enable teams to coordinate more easily."

The exercise isn't meant to badger or potentially indict your employees. In fact, it could probably play as well as a thought exercise as opposed to an actual one.

Rather than a pop quiz for employees, the strategy should be considered a test of you and your leadership team: Are you keeping your employees focused on the big picture? Do they even know what the big picture is? And, of course, why should they?

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