Start With Why

Connect to your purpose
Contributed by

Jeremy Brown

Published May 22, 2019

What Is Start With Why?

Start with why is a practice to discover your organisation's or your personal why. The "Why" is within you and finding your "Why" is a process of discovery, not invention.

Why Do Start With Why?

Why are you here? Why does your organisation exist? Is it just to please the shareholders?

You will have heard the brilliant statement by Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.” In his book, This Is Marketing, Seth Godin says:

The lesson is that the drill bit is merely a feature, a means to an end, but what people truly want is the hole it makes. But that doesn’t go nearly far enough. No one wants a hole. What people want is the shelf that will go on the wall once they drill the hole. Actually, what they want is how they’ll feel once they see how uncluttered everything is, when they put their stuff on the shelf that went on the wall now that there’s a quarter-inch hole. But wait… They also want the satisfaction of knowing they did it themselves. Or perhaps the increase in status they’ll get when their spouse admires the the work. Or the peace of mind that comes from knowing that the bedroom isn’t a mess, and that it feels safe and clean. “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill bit. They want to feel safe and respected.”

Organisations often express their purpose (or their why) in dry terms such as "maximising shareholder value" which their customers and employees cannot connect to or be inspired by. For example does an organisation that tells you the weather exist to give you the most accurate, credible extended forecast or are they really there to protect you?

Why use it?

Purpose is powerful. Your purpose connects you to other people and creates movements. Your organisation's purpose connects and inspires people. In an world where it is increasingly hard to find and retain talent, your purpose is a powerful differentiator. Purpose drives belief and engagement.

Dan Pink, in his book "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us", says that studies done at MIT and other universities, show that higher pay and bonuses resulted in better performance ONLY if the task consisted of basic, mechanical skills. It worked for problems with a defined set of steps and a single answer. If the task involved cognitive skills, decision-making, creativity, or higher-order thinking, higher pay resulted in lower performance. As a supervisor, you should pay employees enough that they are not focused on meeting basic needs and feel that they are being paid fairly. If you don’t pay people enough, they won’t be motivated. Pink suggests that you should pay enough “to take the issue of money off the table.”

Pink says that in order to motivate employees who work beyond basic tasks, give them these three factors to increase performance and satisfaction:

  • Autonomy — Our desire to be self directed. It increases engagement over compliance.
  • Mastery — The urge to get better skills.
  • Purpose — The desire to do something that has meaning and is important. Businesses that only focus on profits without valuing purpose will end up with poor customer service and unhappy employees.

Within all of us is a deep desire for meaning and our organisation's "Why" can help our employees and customers connect at a deeper level driving greater engagement.

Simon Sinek says that trust begins to emerge when we see that people and organizations are driven by reasons that go beyond the self-serving. Aligning Why, How and What is a way to build that trust.

Companies that act like commodity producers have a constant challenge to differentiate themselves from the competition. Chasing the competition, trying to match them feature-for-feature only deepens a “What” culture.

Because consumers and employees are inspired by “Why” you do what you do, companies that begin communicating with the “Why” have a greater flexibility in the market.

We’re always competing against someone else. Better quality. More features. Better service. We’re always comparing ourselves to the competition. And no one wants to help us.

What if we showed up to work every single day to be better than ourselves? For no better reason than to want to leave the organization in a better state than we found it?

All organizations start with “Why”, but only the great ones keep their “Why” clear year after year. Those who forget “Why” they were founded show up to the race every day to outdo someone else instead of outdoing themselves.

You’ve probably heard that before you start a business, market research is key. You do your market research, know your customer and then build your niche. Sinek, however, disagrees. According to Sinek, the “Why” does not come from looking ahead at what you want to achieve and then figuring out an appropriate strategy to get there. It is not born out of market research or for that matter even extensive interviews with customers or employees. It comes from looking in the completely opposite direction from where you are right now. Finding the “Why” is a process of discovery, not invention.

The “Why” is within you. And once you find and know your “Why”, the hardest part is to remain true to it.

Vision and Mission Statements

The difference between “Why” and “How” types also introduces the difference between the vision and mission statements of an organization.

The vision is the founder’s intent, “Why” the company was founded. The mission is a description of “How” the company will create that future.

When both are clear, it will help the “Why” and the “How” type of leaders to have clearly defined roles in the partnership.

How to do Start With Why?

Finding Your Why?

Every individual or organisation can take a different approach to find their why.

Red Hat used the Open Decision Framework across their whole organisation to find their why, which is "Open unlock's the world's potential".

Look at Start With Why

Links we love

Check out these great links which can help you dive a little deeper into running the Start With Why practice with your team, customers or stakeholders.

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