First WHO then WHAT — The Second Installment on Dealing with HOW

Let me start with usual management practice, which revolves around WHAT like a planet revolves around the sun. Do this or Do that, instructions like these seem to be the most efficient way to get things done, maybe only second to doing it yourself, which is by far the most widespread way of dealing with problems. We act like this both at home and at work, whether the workplace is an office or a factory floor.

Frankly speaking, this is not such a bad way of dealing with a one-of-a-kind problem…and especially with an emergency. The problem at hand is solved when this or that has be done. Minimal time, minimal effort. Looks good somehow, doesn´t it?

But how often do we handle one-of-a-kind problems or real emergencies? Most of our problems occur again and again, coming together to form what we call everyday life. If we solve all these recurring problems in the way described above, then the total of all of this seemingly efficiently invested time by far exceeds the time needed to go a totally different way, namely focusing on WHY (I covered this in a recent post) and HOW. This post is dedicated to HOW.

To briefly recap, we find this small but important sequence again and again:


HOW deals with the way we want people to cooperate with each other, whether the other person is an internal colleague or an external supplier or customer. As a management practitioner, you may find it strange that I focus on supplier and customers in the same way. Usually the story goes that customers have to be treated like kings and suppliers have to be controlled and manipulated. In my view this is wrong and damaging for companies, and our society as well. The HOW deals with values — we cannot switch a value on or off. Values define our deepest being, they describe us much more than the color of our hair or the length of our résumés. Values, the HOW, are the basis for trust…or mistrust if we have no clearly defined values in our lives.

I always have the impression that the worst consequences of being a cheater is that you can no longer trust anyone. If you personally have no proper set of values then your behavior lacks consistency. Sometimes you might be honest, sometimes not. No one ever knows the mindset you´re in at any specific time. If sometimes we could trust you and sometimes not, this means that we can never trust you.

Finding out that a trusted person misused our trust is a very hurtful experience. Then we usually blame ourselves, and we might even decide to never trust again. But this would be wrong. We have to stick to our value system and not change it because of others who do not share the same values. We might have to change the way we apply our values. This means that although we personally stay honest, we might be aware of the fact that this specific value is not part of everybody´s innermost being. Maybe we have to keep in mind that other people might abuse our ability and readiness to trust them, but nevertheless we can remain people who can and should be trusted.

Of course this is only possible if we know about our own value systems. If not, we miss an important guideline that can make life much easier.

A cashier gives us too much money back? With a clear value system, you know what to do. The irritating inner voice that suggests that you should take this as a chance for easy money will not really have an effect on you. Your value system will leave no space for any internal negotiations.

An important member of the team misbehaves consistently? With a clear value system, you know what to do. If this behavior does not change despite all efforts from your side as the leader of the team, you have to get rid of this person. He or she is destroying the team, making it weak and vulnerable. It is much easier to find a technical expert than somebody with a sound value system who you can trust. Expertise can be learned in a reasonable amount of time, while values or the lack of them are developed over many years. They usually date back to early childhood — even small but reliable changes need enormous amounts of effort and readiness, and these are seldom to be found.


Invest a few minutes per day in defining your value system. Take a notepad and write a list. Make changes if necessary. Boil it down to the very essentials. Find the values that are really important as guidelines for your life. Once you are committed to your individual set of values, you can share them with the people around you, your loved ones, your friends and your team members. Find situations where you can apply them. Watch for the outcome. Compare it to situations in the past where you had no clear values. Compare your life to the lives of people who obviously have no clear values or who have different values. You may find that life is much easier then, and you will be much more efficient and clear…and you might even sleep better.