Many of us are familiar with looking for the WIIFM, or “What’s in it for me?” This phrase is behind advertising, sales, and consumer-focused approaches. To find the WIIFM, we are supposed to put ourselves in a customer’s shoes and figure out what they might want and how they could benefit from something we’re offering.

The problem with this expression, however, is its self-contained irony. We’re supposed to be looking at how others may benefit, but somehow still manage to include the “me.” Although one could argue that it’s a matter of semantics, time and time again leaders with good intentions fail to get past the “me” and miss out on who they are trying to serve. Even in guessing at what someone else might need, they do it from a “me” place and likely project their own assumptions. Therefore, to apply this mindset and be of service, we need to shift from the WIIFM to the WIIFT and ask a different question: “What’s in it for them?”

Whiffing the WIIFM

There are many instances in organizational life for us to apply the WIIFT, including:

  • Meetings
  • Training
  • Assigning work
  • Career development
  • Mentoring
  • Benefits
  • Scheduling

We sometimes wonder why people aren’t engaged, why they don’t seem to care, why they aren’t more self-directed or self-motivated, why morale is low, or why turnover is high. In many instances, one underlying reason is a lack of focus on the WIIFT. Instead, leaders look out for their own interests over other’s interests. Consider some common examples:

  • When leading a meeting, the leader sets their own agenda that serves the outcomes they want
  • When designing training, the facilitator emphasizes topics that are exciting and meaningful to them
  • When exploring benefits or work schedules, the company figures out how they can get the most amount of productivity for the least cost
  • When mentoring or discussing a direct report’s career, the manager looks at how they can keep the employee from leaving
  • When giving a PowerPoint presentation, the presenter includes all the brilliant insights they think they have and cram them into an hour-long talk with tons of slides and non-stop talking

Although the above examples may provide short-term benefits for the individual or organization, over time they erode trust, security, and growth. In the end, the approaches create the opposite result. The WIIFM lives up to its name and benefits the leader or the company, not the employees.

The Shift from the WIIFM to the WIIFT

Instead of either focusing on how we can benefit or trying to put ourselves in another’s shoes while still thinking of “me,” we can ask a different question: “What’s in it for them?”

Asking this simple question gets us thinking about other’s needs and desires. It helps us shift our thinking from what we can get to what we can give. And, paradoxically, it often results in everyone benefitting.

How do we discover the WIIFT? It’s simple: ask.

Of course, there are different ways to ask. Depending on the audience and situation, some approaches include:

  • Surveys
  • Focus groups
  • 1:1 interviews
  • Polls
  • Feedback forms
  • Casual conversations

Going back to our earlier examples, here’s how finding the WIIFT might look:

  • Prior to the meeting, the leader asks meeting participants what would create value for them and plans the agenda accordingly
  • The facilitator surveys the organization to discover areas of weakness and designs training to strengthen those areas. They also inquire about preferred learning formats and incorporate them.
  • The company has managers set clear outcomes but allows for flexible work schedules so long as the outcomes are met
  • The manager asks what direct report’s goals are and provides support on how they can achieve them, knowing that they will be much more inspired and engaged during the time they work for them (and may want to stay longer because a frequently “hidden” but significant job benefit is a supportive manager who cares about their people)
  • The presenter polls their peers on things they’d want to know related to the topic and breaks up their PowerPoint presentation to ask questions of the audience, use audience-related scenarios, and create simple slides that are easy to read and follow

The Power of the WIIFT

The great thing about using the WIIFT is its simplicity and ease of use. It takes very little time, minimal effort, and gets maximum results. In short, the ROI is significant.

A manager was struggling to engage people at their meetings. When they started focusing on what the participants wanted to talk about, inquiring about their ideas, and offering tools to help make their jobs easier, the participants started taking initiative both in and out of the meetings. This, in turn, took a huge load off of the manager’s plate.

 

When conducting a training in an industrial organization, the trainer used examples and scenarios that related directly to the worker’s day-to-day work instead of the more commonly used and standard office-based scenarios. The participants were more easily able to apply what they learned, engage in the training, and follow-through (and were more motivated to attend future training).

 

An organization wanted to find ways to keep their employees and attract new ones. They put out a survey asking what benefits would most appeal to people and make them want to stay with the company. They took the top two ideas and immediately found ways to implement them. In addition to reaping the benefits, the employees also felt heard and valued. This not only helped with retention, but employees spoke much more highly of the company and were more intrinsically motivated to help the company succeed.

These are just a few examples. Even the WIIFT is a misnomer because asking the question ultimately results in the WIIFW, or “What’s in it for we?” By asking the WIIFT, everyone wins.

To begin using the WIIFT, reflect on the following questions:

 

  • How often do you ask what would provide value for others? What are some situations in which you could ask?
  • What are some situations in which you wish others would consider how you could benefit? What are similar situations in which others might feel the same way?
  • What keeps you from considering how others might benefit? When you do, what keeps you from acting accordingly?
  • What do you assume you might lose by focusing on how others could benefit and providing those benefits?
  • How do you feel and what do you experience when serving others?