For one of my graduate courses, we were posed the question, “Why is theory important?” This is meant to be in the context of Communications, but came to me as an overarching question for how I approach the world.
Both of my parents are highly intelligent, so much of my childhood was spent being explained to why something mattered or was important, rather than just to do it. For example, my mother rarely ever gave an edict without explanation, expecting swift and immediate follow-through. But my siblings and I were taught that, should we ever receive explicit instructions without explanation, there wasn’t time to explain for our own safety. This set me on a path from an early age to always be thinking about the reasons behind action, particularly when not explained.
For me, individual actions or happenings are meaningless without a paradigm in which to exist, and I don’t believe that I am alone here. Millennials as a whole are more interested in the ‘Why’ than the ‘What’, particularly in the workplace. Much of what constitutes the ‘norm’ in Corporate America is a hold-over from a time when such things were necessary. Think of the standard 8-5 work day. As little as 10 years ago, having everyone in the office at the same time was absolutely vital to the flow of business. Information needed to be shared, brainstorming sessions hosted, decisions made/communicated, and all of it in a timely manner. Now, with high-tech networking, video conferencing, and an ever-expanding culture of 24/7 connection, a common physical location seems restrictive rather than unifying.
The key is explaining the why, and understanding the theory behind actions. From my professional past, I remember being very frustrated that the Corporate Pricing Town Hall meetings were at 8am. I am not a morning person, and often chose alternate work hours when possible, as did many in my organization. It seemed needlessly inefficient to get everyone in one room together so early in the morning, when having the meeting after lunch would have accommodated everyone. But the real reason for the morning meetings was out of respect to our international counterparts, so they had the option of calling in to the meeting. 8am Eastern Time was the most convenient time for our global offices, allowing everyone to call in at reasonable hours should they desire. Even though very few chose to do so, we did not want to forcibly exclude any colleagues. After understanding the inclusion paradigm, my bitterness at 8am meetings was at least reduced (so long as there was coffee!).
Theory has always been a vital part of our interactions with others and the world around us. The key moving forward is to clearly define what that operational theory is, and to clearly communicate the theory up front and regularly thereafter. Doing so will not only ensure that all of our actions are consistent, but will also help to engage the newest generational addition to the work-force: a zero-cost opportunity for reaching Millennials.