Why Do We Do What We Do?

“That’s just the way we do it” – Something I’ve heard countless times from leaders and their reports in response to my question, “Why do you [fill in the blank]?”. I am surprised by how little careful thought we tend to give to why we do the things we do in the workplace.

This led me to wonder – why? If an organization’s culture is a collection of lessons that helped it grow and survive, it is only sensible that members of the group would look to past successful behavior for future guidance. Over time, provided these behaviors yield positive results, management develops processes to ensure that these effective behaviors occur and that positive outcomes are achieved in more and more consistent ways. Eventually, people aren’t consciously thinking about why they do what they do. They do what they’ve always done because it seems to have worked for them in the past.

Adding to the potential risk of this work on autopilot is the “noise” of the day-to-day. As people scramble to tackle to-do’s, they oftentimes don’t feel they have the luxury to think critically about why it is they do what they do.

This, in and of itself, wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing…if we worked in a bubble where our environment didn’t change. But when behaviors that have historically yielded success cease to do so, people start to ask themselves why they are doing what they do. Unfortunately, by then, it may be too late.

Truly exceptional leaders are those who constantly ask the question, “Why?”. Effective leaders are those who push others to examine why they do things the way they do them and inspire them to understand the marketplace and question the efficacy of their behavior.

When is the last time you stopped and asked the question, “Why do I do the things I do?”. The answer may surprise you.