Joshua Sortino

Do Your Employees Understand And Focus On Your Why?

Base Building Matters

Yesterday, when I was doing my run, I got to thinking about base building. For competitive distance runners, building a base means running frequently, putting in the long, slow miles. The point is to build a solid foundation and get the body aerobically ready for the demands of training to run harder and faster.

A lot of times, people who are new to running either don’t know about, or don’t understand the importance of a good base. They’ll instead go out, run too many miles, way to quickly, and either get hurt or flame out. It can take months to build a good, solid base, but it’s probably the most important phase of the running cycle. If you’re interested, here’s a link to an article by Jenny Hadfield that explains it all in depth and better than I could: A Runner’s Guide to Base Building

“Base building can easily be compared to building a house. It starts with constructing a solid foundation, which supports the house even through the harshest of weather conditions for years.” ~ Jenny Hadfield

As I was running, putting in the miles to build my own foundation, I realized that base building applies to most everything in life. Children must have a strong foundation in reading, mathematics, writing, etc. in order to make educational progress. Relationships require a strong base built on respect, honesty, and listening, among other things.

In the business world, base building means having integrity and honor. It means understanding not just the “how to do it” aspects of the job, but also the “why” of the organization and how each person contributes to that “why”.

Without a solid foundation, trees topple and houses crumble into a pile of rubble. Relationships fall apart and businesses go under.

I’ve had a lot of different jobs in my life and, looking back, one the things I’ve noticed that was lacking in nearly every case has been my understanding of the organization’s “WHY”. Oh, sure, I had mission statements handed to me at nearly every place; at one company, I was even told I should memorize it.

The problem, though, is that in most of those situations, there was no follow through and no real push to help me (or anyone who worked there) understand how my duties contributed to the big picture. To the people in the trenches, they were simply words on a page, a theoretical guiding principle that really only mattered if someone (usually a big boss) asked about it.

A lot of this stemmed from the parochial nature of the companies’ organizational structures. In two of the places there was a pervasive sense of “not-my-job-itis” going on as well. Not surprisingly, both of those companies are no longer in business. In other cases, the problem was that there were unwritten, cultural aspects that effectively contradicted the written mission.

At one particular job, this played out as a power struggle between the founders of the company and the people brought on board by the outsider CEO. While there was indeed one mission statement for the company, each side felt that their particular business focus (government contracts versus commercial business) was the one that was going to lead to organizational success. There were two different “WHYS”, and employees were caught in the tussle, being pulled first one way, then the other, like a rope in a tug of war contest.

“You can’t build a great building on a weak foundation. You must have a solid foundation if you’re going to have a strong superstructure.” ~ Gordon B. Hinckley

Good leaders take a good, hard look at their organization to determine if their employees “get it”. They spend the necessary time on base building, not only teaching their employees the basic skills and duties of the job, but also ensuring that each and every employee, from the shipping clerk to the custodian to the marketing rep to the CFO, understands how his or her role fits into that big picture and contributes to the “WHY”.

This not only helps the company meet the goals of the mission statement, but also gives the employees a sense of purpose and ownership. When every employee knows how they contribute to the structure, the foundation becomes stronger and the organization is better able to weather whatever storms come along.

I’d love to hear your comments on this topic!