Earlier this month my wife was helping our daughter with her English homework. As they were discussing some gramatical rule my daughter replied to a statement my wife made by saying “but mom, my teacher taught me otherwise.” They then proceeded to carry out an argument over whether mom or the teacher was right. What I know of the discussion is that my wife’s statement was correct and perhaps my daughter misheard the teacher. However, that is not the issue. My wife found herself in a position with our daughter where her word was not good enough. Trust me simply did not cut it. She had to prove to her that my wife was correct.
As I reflected on this situation, I realized that so much of what we have to do when rolling out new methodologies, processes, and practices is dependent on us explaining to key stakeholders that what we offer them is the correct way of doing things. Our word is not good enough. Now, this is not because we as parents or professionals are untrustworthy. It is because the stakeholders, even our children, demand clarity and transparency to understand the reasons behind the rules.
Later in the week my wife and I attended an orientation session at the school where the teachers emphasized the need to engage the children beyond the simple “do it because I told you so.” They told us that we have to be prepared to explain not only the what and the how, but also the why.
The same also is true when we launch initiatives in organizations such as implementing project management practices. It is not good enough to explain to stakeholders what a project charter is for instance or even how to complete it. We have to explain to them why it is important to have a project charter and furthermore demonstrate the negative implications of what happens when we don’t have one developed.
I begin to wonder about transparency in organizations. I used to think that transparency meant that we have to conduct ourselves in an honest manner and with full disclosure (obviously while maintaining confidentiality where needed). However, I believe that my understanding of transparency is evolving to also include the need to explain the why element of what and how we do things. For stakeholders to truly buy into our ideas, telling them “this is the best practice so use it” is not good enough. Showing them why the best practice was instituted is what ultimately gains supporters within the organization.
That sometimes however is a scary thing for professionals. Even experienced project management practitioners and trainers find themselves challenged with the notion of explaining the “why”, perhaps because so much of their training has been focused on the “what” and “how”. That is in my opinion a call to action for all of us to better arm ourselves with the knowledge long before we advocate for an idea, process, methodology, or a set of rules in the organization. Once we have that knowledge and we are able to explain it to others, we will be better prepared to generate the needed buy-in for it.