Twenty employees sit in a classroom learning. They all receive the same information at the same time, and in the same way. The class ends. Does everyone understand what’s been taught? Heads nod. Are we being clear on what is expected? Heads nod again, along with an audible “Yes, boss.”

Then off they go, taking on the day. Many, if not most of them, quickly put what they’ve learned into place…at least for that day. Maybe they continue for a day or two longer, and then the old behaviors rear their head. The very thing you were trying to stop from occurring happens again.

Time to retrain. Get everyone into class again and repeat the cycle. Does everyone understand? “Yes boss.” Are we all clear on expectations? “Yes, boss.” Off we go again. Behavior changes that day, and for a few days, and then again, prior habits creep back in and you are right back to where you were before.

Does any of this sound familiar?

As leaders, we spend our time talking to our team about what is expected of them in terms of performance measurement. Sales, gross margins, conversion rate, etc. After we do that we train them on the how. What are the behaviors we expect to get the what accomplished?

It all seems so simple. Tell them What is expected and then train them on the how. Once we do that, our work as a leader is done. This works perfectly for some employees – particularly our high producers, but for the rest, this method often won’t catch hold. Oftentimes it seems our high expectations are rarely met. Inconsistency inevitably rears its head. What gives?

Focus on the Why

In 1992, Nexstar Founder Frank Blau was busy creating our company (then called Contractors 2000). I had met Frank through his travels and developed a friendship that resulted in Frank ultimately asking me to come on board and get this new organization off the ground.

I remember the day I quit my old job working for the Minnesota PHCC to start this new endeavor. It was the same day I took my wife home from the hospital after she gave birth to our second child, Brent. I was 30 years old with a two-year-old daughter and a newborn son. Frank offered me $45k a year, which was a big increase, allowing my wife Barbara to stay home with our two children and live in relative comfort.

I knew at that moment I was overpaid. There were no other $45k a year jobs out there for a young and inexperienced 30-year-old in St. Paul, Minnesota. I had to keep this job. I would be letting my family down otherwise.

I also knew that this was a very public job. The eyes of the industry were on us, and most of them were hoping we would fail. Failure for Contractors 2000 in my mind, meant public failure for me. If the organization failed, it would mean my career would be over before it even started – at least in my mind. The thought of public failure was terrifying.

There was something else, too. I wanted to be known as a successful executive. I wanted that to be my identity. Up until that point, I was just kind of existing as a professional. I wanted a career of meaning and success. That was my why. See where I’m going here?

Don’t focus so much on the what or how when inspiring your team to be their best. Seek out their why. Once you’ve figured that out, you can begin to develop ways for them to advance their career according to their own goals and aspirations.