REASONS FOR REASONS – WHY GIVING THE RATIONALE FOR TASKS CAN BE MOTIVATING

May 1st, 2019

“They tell us to do tasks, but don’t give the reasons.
“They create artificial rules with no justification.”

These are quotes form senior administrators who were baffled and annoyed by the tasks that were given to them by the Finance Department. They wanted to know the reasons for these tasks. But they weren’t getting these reasons; only commands. In my work as a leadership coach, I have heard more and more desires to understand why they need to complete a specific task. Merely being told what to do doesn’t work well to motivate these busy and curious professionals.

Good leaders usually give the reasons when they delegate a task. But some don’t. There appear to be three main causes for neglecting to give reasons. Time pressures are the first. When managers feel rushed, or when the task is particularly time sensitive, managers might neglect to describe the reasons for, or the benefits of doing it. The second cause is a bit more insidious. Some managers believe that the force of their own authority ought to be enough to compel employees to comply and to simply get it done. The third cause seems to be the leader’s belief that the reasons are obvious and therefore don’t need to be stated. This belief is based on expecting the employee to read the leader’s mind. Each of these reasons for neglecting to give reasons can leave employees feeling underinformed, disrespected, and therefore unmotivated.

Giving reasons has always been an effective leadership practice. So, why is needing to give reasons an issue now? An increasingly well educated, and autonomous workforce seems to be a cause. Most workplace cultures espouse a belief that people are adults and deserve to know the full story behind their work, including why certain tasks need to be done. Without reasons, people can feel like servants or cogs in a wheel, neither of which is especially motivating.

Here are some examples of reasons:
“We need you to complete this form because the IRS regulations have changed. And they need to know the breakdown of all travel expenses. Otherwise, they could cite us for non-compliance.”
“Can you update me weekly on your projects, so I will be able to share it with my peers at our leadership team meetings? That way we can make sure your project is coordinated with other projects, so you get the resources you need, as well as get recognition for your work.”
“Can you give me a breakdown of the time you have invested in each of your projects. I will use this to calculate how much time we have left in our contract, and how to allocate our time in ways that are most effective for the client.”

So, why not give reasons? It takes only a couple of minutes. It closes the cognitive loop in peoples’ brains and makes them feel respected, all adding to motivation.

“They tell us to do tasks, but don’t give the reasons.” “They create artificial rules with no justification.”

These are quotes form senior administrators who were baffled and annoyed by the tasks that were given to them by the Finance Department. They wanted to know the reasons for these tasks. But they weren’t getting these reasons; only commands. In my work as a leadership coach, I have heard more and more desires to understand why they need to complete a specific task. Merely being told whatto do doesn’t work well to motivate these busy and curious professionals.

Good leaders usually give the reasons when they delegate a task. But some don’t. There appear to be three main causes for neglecting to give reasons. Time pressures are the first. When managers feel rushed, or when the task is particularly time sensitive, managers might neglect to describe the reasons for, or the benefits of doing it. The second cause is a bit more insidious. Some managers believe that the force of their own authority ought to be enough to compel employees to comply and to simply get it done. The third cause is the leader’s belief that the reasons are obvious and therefore don’t need to be stated. This belief is based on expecting the employee to read the leader’s mind. Each of these reasons for neglecting to give reasons can leave employees feeling under-informed, disrespected, and therefore unmotivated.

Giving reasons has always been an effective leadership practice. So, why is needing to give reasons an issue now? An increasingly well educated, and autonomous workforce seems to be a cause. Most workplace cultures espouse a belief that people are adults and deserve to know the full story behind their work, including why certain tasks need to be done. Without reasons, people can feel like servants or cogs in a wheel, neither of which is especially motivating. 

Here are some examples of reasons:

“We need you to complete this form because the IRS regulations have changed. And they need to know the breakdown of all travel expenses. Otherwise, they could cite us for non-compliance.”

“Can you update me weekly on your projects, so I will be able to share it with my peers at our leadership team meetings? That way we can make sure your project is coordinated with other projects so you get the resources you need, as well as get recognition for your good work.”

“Can you give me a breakdown of the time you have invested in each of your projects. I will use this to calculate how much time we have left in our contract, and how to allocate our time in ways that are most effective for the client.”

So, why not give reasons? It takes only a couple of minutes. It closes the cognitive loop in peoples’ brains and makes them feel respected, all adding to motivation. 


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