Why “Why?” is What Your People Really Want to Know

Companies across America are undergoing structural and strategic upheaval.  From deciding whether it is wise to mandate vaccines or rolling out distributive workforce plans, business leaders have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do! 

And it’s hard.  Today, many of our decisions hinge on changing variables, some we cannot predict, like viral spread, employees quitting, or the unavailability of computer equipment for remote workers.  After a tough decision, the last thing we want is to battle an avalanche of resistance from the people who work for us. 

When explanations do not follow decisions, you risk disgruntled and worried employees.  Therefore, what is the best approach when communicating initiatives to your organization?   

When it comes to communicating a change, many leaders run through the five Ws in this order:  what, when, who, where, and sometimes why.  Unfortunately, it is common for leaders to hold back on the “why” because they don’t want to invite preemptive criticism. 

However, Dr. Shelley Thompkins, in the webinar Leading Through Change for the Center for Creative Leadership, explains that when communicating about any significant organizational change, leaders should “focus on the “why,” not just the “what” of the change, to increase buy-in.” 

She explains that people can become anxious or frustrated when not looped in on decisions and initiatives.  “Too often, organizations focus on what’s changing and not the why…In essence, you want to communicate the why, you want to talk about where things stand, and certainly celebrate small victories along the way.” 

Resistors significantly benefit from knowing “why.” Dr. Alex Lickerman, writing for Psychology Today, notes: 

When explanations aren’t forthcoming, on the other hand, poor outcomes frequently ensue.  Employees who don’t understand the reason for management‘s decisions are at risk of becoming disgruntled, disempowered, and even depressed. This leads to poorer job satisfaction, work quality, and customer service—and a diminishing work force (as employees seek employment elsewhere).  It also leads to anger against authority and a tendency to presume incompetence and even corruption.

He also suggests that when managers explain their thinking, or the “why” to people, it “actually represents an opportunity to contribute to their well-being.” That’s because people are less stressed when they know why something is happening, even if they disagree with the decision.

So, if you are a member of the “Don’t ask why just deliver results” school of thought, perhaps it is time to rethink this mindset. Instead, let others into your decision and then tell them why you have chosen to make it.  Your teams will trust you more, buy into your vision, and you will have a better chance of helping them champion your change. 


Alex Lickerman, M.D.  (Nov. 15, 2010).  Why We Need to Know Why.  Psychology Today.

Dr. Shelley Young Thompkins, PhD, ACC.  (Presenter, Center for Creative Leadership).  (2021, August). How to Successfully Lead the Change to a Hybrid Workplace.  Retrieved from LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/video/live/urn:li:ugcPost:6829078839767924736/