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Connecting the Why to the What and How in Effective Knowledge Transfer

Aug 27, 2018

I have the privilege of facilitating regulatory and “soft skills” training (which we know are often hard skills to learn) across the U.S. for leadership and management teams. Most sessions focus on breaking down information into actionable items for participants to do when they get back to their jobs. The leaders in the audience are responsible for taking the information they learn and sharing it with their teams back at their financial institutions, which results in knowledge transfer.

One of the questions our training and consulting team is often asked is, “Why do we need to do this?” As always, we can show where it is required (maybe as part of a standard operating procedure or part of a regulation that the institution needs to follow to stay in compliance), or we can discuss how it is an industry best practice, or we can explore how it has always been done that way, etc. However, where transferring knowledge in today’s competitive labor market often falls short is simple—leaders don’t take the time to explain the reason why a task needs to be accomplished, or they themselves don’t know the why.

With past generations, we often had leaders who spent decades at the institution moving up through the ranks. That gave them the advantage of understanding the why at their own pace—or even not caring about why something had to be done. They just knew they had to do it, and they did it.

Today, it is different. It is more imperative than ever before to ensure effective leadership and knowledge transfer starts with why because Gen X, Gen Y, and Gen Z (or whatever they will be labeled in the future) don’t have decades to learn. They need to know now. And they insist on understanding why you are asking them to do a job BEFORE they care to learn how to do it. The bottom line is that just because it’s a “have to do,” doesn’t always engage people to get it done.

As a business leader, there is also a business reason to start with why. Simon Sinek stated it well—especially in the competitive marketplace of today—“people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Your why can be your differentiator in an industry that is decades old and sometimes feels like everyone is doing the same thing for their clients.

During trainings and consulting engagements, our team insists on starting with the why first. We engage the leaders too. After all, they are going back to share this knowledge with their teams, and they need to be able to tell the why as much as they need to be able to present the tactical what and how.

When audiences are asked to identify the importance of sharing the why first, here are a few popular responses:

  • People in general don’t often react well to being told what to do, or even how to do it! Employees do react well to understanding why it is important and being able to connect the what and how back to the why.
  • The next generation entering the work force wants to be more involved in the full process; starting with the why immediately helps them feel involved.
  • Understanding the why—which is sometimes the history—shares the intent and purpose of the request.
  • It identifies that even in very process-oriented, almost checklist jobs, we still need to be aware of the importance our roles play in helping consumers.
  • It shows that we are part of a larger force; we really serve more than our members and customers. We serve our fellow team members, our leaders, our board members, and the communities in which we are located.
  • History builds our future—understanding why we have “always done it that way” allows us to confirm that we should keep doing it that way or that we should open a dialog to ask if it’s time for a change.

If transferring knowledge is important to you as a leader and if you find that no matter how many times you tell someone what to do and how to do it, the results you want to see aren’t there, here is our challenge to you: share the why before the requirement, the new way of doing something, or the “have to.” See if it doesn’t make the implementation faster and more impactful.




Tammy T. Jelinek, MBA
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