Saturday, 7 July 2012

Components of A Communications Strategy - The "Why"

2) The "Why"

This refers to the rationale, reason or justification for the implementation of the 'desired good'.

In general terms, this component becomes important especially when driving change initiatives, no matter how small they may be perceived. If handled properly, it eases the transition to a new system, process or program. For this reason we would examine the "Why" within the context of organisational change.

In today's fast-paced era, managers sometimes do not have the 'luxury' of time to provide sufficient justifications for a proposed action. Moreover, they may be required to deliver results within the confines of incomplete information. When they do provide explanations however, these are often overshadowed by their military-style orders. It is no wonder that even though they expect full co-operation, they receive lukewarm responses.

It has thus become important for managers seeking to implement change initiatives to objectively consider the following:

A) Whether the justification is 'ego-induced'.

B) Whether the justification is clearly communicated as the practical option.

The justification as an 'ego-induced' declaration

Many managers today lack diverse skills for their evolving roles.  This is true even for managers who are considered effective in delivering results or in motivating their teams. When questioned about a decision, they sometimes fall into the 'because-I-said-so' category.

Some adopt 'power tactics' - using their positions or influence to make arbitrary decisions just because they are able to do so. Unbeknownst to them, such actions tend to alienate them from their teams. They are often ignorant of the simmering resentment from the employees in their unit, mistaking temporal compliance for consent. The employees however are simply biding their time until they are able to show, in no uncertain terms, a disapproval of the managerial style of their boss and/or their resistance to his change initiatives.

Even if a rationale is given but construed as  'ego-induced' and thus simply mirroring the perceptions of the power-obsessed executive, it would not yield widespread acceptance.

For example, a regional sales manager working in a mobile network company, who is known for adopting 'power tactics', may give the rationale, (the "Why"), for increasing individual sales targets of his team members  by 20%, as being  'necessary' in order to compensate for the poor sales recorded in the previous month. He might even hint that there might be consequences for all who fail to meet the new targets. However, without proper justifications for the increased targets such as the following:

I) The telecommunications company undergoing colossal losses due to operational/technical setbacks and thus needing to boost revenue to cover costs;

II) The sales unit needing to liaise with the marketing and technical teams in order to pool together talents and resources to boost sales so as to save jobs across the board etc.

The reasons given would be seen as yet another avenue for threats and intimidation. The employees would display lukewarm actions or outright resistance, despite the gravity of the situation. This is because the justification given by the manager neither acknowledges how the change would impact the employees' performance, nor addresses other factors which might yield favourable results. People should not be expected to work miracles if neither support nor tools are given to enhance effort. If under extreme stress, the sales executives may be forced to adopt illegal, (or at the very least), unethical measures to obtain the required results - the ends justifying the means - thereby tarnishing the corporate reputation if such actions become widespread.

The justification as the practical option

Now your justification "makes sense". Tick. But why is it not receiving the support necessary to drive home your objective? Often times, this problem could arise if it is not the practical option for that circumstance. If you also consider the fact that the spontaneous reaction to any change is resistance, (we are all creatures of habit), it becomes clear that your "Why" would need to be perceived as the most suitable route for your 'desired good'.

In this sense you cannot, or rather should not, compare oranges to tangerines, despite the two obvious links:  both fruits having a similar appearance/taste and both belonging to the citrus family.

For example, your company may have recorded some success in increasing individual sales targets of its executives in its Johannesburg branch in South Africa, by explaining the need for the competitive edge in the sector and by seeking to retain the branch's reputation for being the most profitable in sub-Saharan Africa. Perhaps the justifications for the 'desired good', (the increased sales targets), were effective because they benefitted from: a) the collective pride of the sales unit and b) the ownership of certain innovative initiatives which galvanised sales in that location.

However, giving similar justifications in the Lagos branch in Nigeria may backfire, even if it does seem like the obvious thing to do - transferring a 'tried and tested' formula to another sub-Saharan location. And this is the mistake multinationals tend to make. Cultural differences, (ranging from the prevailing corporate culture of the land to social dynamics), are often overlooked, or wrongly assumed, to be identical in African countries sharing certain socio-political similarities or experiencing specific macro-economic trends.

Unless justifications which are given to the employees in the Lagos unit take into account its operating environment, special circumstances and culture, there would be no effective 'buy-ins' for the initiative and thus no appreciable success recorded. This development would have been prompted by the resentful, ever-present and  uncompromising 'this-is-not-how-we-do-things-around-here' stance.


One of the most crucial reasons for the lack of continuity in change programmes is the absence of the appropriate "Why". Unless people really believe in a cause or feel responsible for its success, due to a combination of reasons, among which is their level of commitment, it would not be sustained. 

Once the right justification is identified, the "Who" should then be chosen after careful consideration as this individual's actions would have a direct effect on the process of evolution/renewal/change that the organisation is seeking to address.


N.B- Image courtesy of Animation courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Rob Doughty (via LinkedIn)9 July 2012 at 19:29

    Answering the why question is the most overlooked, often neglected opportunity in corporate communications. Proactively answering this question, especially for employees, is a key path to effective communications when people actually get it and will then do what you want them to do.

  2. Rob - Thanks for your comment. I completely agree. Of course other factors play a role in the success of any plan but one should place sufficient emphasis on the 'why" to get the ball rolling.


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