Simon Says, Get Your Why On!

Posted by on Jun 24, 2014 in Business


With more than 18 million views of his first TED talk, a best-selling book under his belt and another recently published, Simon Sinek has secured his place in the cultural exploration of leadership – with good reason. He put his finger on a quality rabidly pursued in the modern world – meaning – specifically, how clearly communicating why people do what they do inspires others.

Much of what Simon posited in his book Start with Why has since taken root in the business world. His points were driven home by the perfect corporate poster child – Apple. It is the rare brand that embodies what it stands for as much as Apple does. It not only has a resonant why, but also infuses that why in every product it makes and everything it does. The brand grew exponentially because of it. The lesson was lost on few.

Why Not You?
You don’t have to be the next Apple to realize the benefits of an inspired why. As Simon mentions, the infectious passion behind Orville and Wilbur Wright’s why – to change the world with a flying machine – drove their team to outperform efforts that had much more support and funding. Everyone is also familiar with the power of Martin Luther King’s dream, another of Simon’s examples. The point is, whether an entity is an individual, a small group, or a large organization, why it does what it does is where others find meaning, where they can align their beliefs.

With the exception of the rare organization founded on an iconic leader’s vision, most businesses just plod along knowing what they do focused on how they’re doing it with little thought paid as to why. So, what if you find yourself as a stakeholder in a culture that doesn’t seem to have a clear why? Is there any hope? Can you discover a why? Is there still a chance for the tribe to rally around a higher purpose?

Have You Checked Your Genes?
Simon says, ‘Every single person has a why and every single organization has one too.’ But what often makes finding a why so challenging is that it likes to hide in an organization’s genetics. Finding it typically involves a historical review to tease it out, which is best done in parallel with brand development.*

Branding is largely a research and discovery exercise. It not only involves divining a why, it depends on the why it seeks to be effective. The two are inextricably linked. Without why, brands lack critical substance. Substance is essentially what contributes to uniting employees, reinforcing customer relationships, resonating with prospects, attracting recruits, and characteristically defining a company. Once identified, why becomes the guiding principle against which to consider all future business decisions.

OK, Now I Follow You
Everyone has heard stories of people performing extraordinarily under challenging circumstances because of some sense of higher purpose. Conversely, many without simply don’t. If your organization’s why isn’t clear, what can employees rally around? More importantly, what attracted them in the first place?

Surveys posted over the last few years indicate a majority of U.S. employees, in some cases more than 70 percent of those polled, are dissatisfied with their jobs. Is it much of a stretch to assume that a clear why is a rare commodity in the workplace? If employees are primary brand ambassadors and can’t find meaning in the organizations they work for, then the very people counted on to lead the charge don’t know why they should.

Employees make a why real. Every touch point is an opportunity to express why, convey meaning, and build the brand. For all employees to be in sync, and to attract right-fit recruits, clarity of why is essential. With internal alignment, the message will effectively ripple out to customers, prospects, and the world at large.

We Believe
It’s common sense, really. Shared beliefs attract people. When they find other like-minded individuals, groups, organizations, companies, and brands, they want to connect. Those who enjoy meaning in what they’ve aligned themselves with become enthusiastic champions because ultimately it is about them. GD

Interested in making it about you? Start with Simon’s website.

*The brand development process typically includes many research-related activities such as historical review, culture audit, stakeholder interviews, marketplace profile, and competitive analysis.