Effective Solutions Through Partnership

Why the ‘Why’ is Vital for Business Success

Communications, Managing/Leadership, Organizational Change Management (OCM)

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Photo Credit: LinkedIn SlideShare / Simon Sinek

By Sarah Walsh

‘Why’ seems to be having a moment. Simon Sinek has devoted an entire TED Talk to describing why the idea of ‘why’ is so important. Sinek says, “…very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by “why” I don’t mean “to make a profit.” That’s a result. It’s always a result. By “why,” I mean: What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?”

Effectively communicating the ‘why’—your mission, your vision, the fundamental reason your employees show up every day—will help ensure your employees are not only satisfied with their job, but excited to come to work and continuously strive to improve their performance. According to Gallup, “Companies with an average of 9.3 engaged employees for every actively disengaged employee in 2010-2011 experienced 147% higher earnings per share (EPS) compared with their competition in 2011-2012.”

As for your customers, when they know the why of your business, they’re more likely to do business with you. According to Sinek, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. If you talk about what you believe, you will attract those who believe what you believe.”

This same idea of explaining ‘why’ can be applied to any organizational change management event. Whether a corporate restructuring, a merger, or a move from one software system to another, your employees or customers will be more open to the change if they know why this change is happening, and, more importantly, why this change is good for them.

No doubt many of you have heard the acronym WIIFM—What’s In It For Me? WIIFM is simply another idea that gets down to the root of why. How does this affect my work? Or, What am I going to get out of this? In a nutshell, Why should I care? (And you want people to care. As we saw from Gallup, employee engagement is a key to business success.)

Take, for example, the real-life example of a friend of mine, a public school teacher. Towards the end of the school year, the school district implemented a new software system for teachers. With not much fanfare, and with little-to-no training, teachers were scrambling at the end of the year to figure out the new system. While the new system ultimately boasted better features and more ease, those features—the WIIFM—were not effectively communicated. As a result, teachers were not excited about this move to the new system. Frustrated teachers at the end of a long school year? Not great for student morale.

Rather than sending out a company-wide memo simply announcing a business change, employees or customers need to know why this change is occurring, and more importantly, what kinds of benefits they will see from the change. Regardless of the size of your change event—the merging of two departments may be a bigger change than switching payroll vendors, but a smaller change than a corporate acquisition—be on the forefront of change communications from the start. And, remember to communicate frequently why this change is necessary and outline what’s in it for your employees or customers.

Seeking feedback from your employees or customers prior to implementing a change is a better way to engage from the very beginning of the change process. Perhaps you are looking for ways to improve a manual process in a manufacturing center or maybe you want to switch to a more user-friendly interface for taking customer orders. First, ask your employees or customers what kind of improvements they would like to see. Take their comments and suggestions into account. Then, when you implement the new system or process, explaining the why becomes very simple, “You asked, and we delivered.”

What kinds of communication tactics have you found to work to boost your business’s success—more importantly, why do you think they work?

About the Author: Sarah Walsh has nearly a decade of communications experience, including public sector roles in the California State Senate and State Assembly, as well as private sector roles for a sovereign Native American tribe and a global pharmaceutical company. In addition to communications work, Sarah and her husband are team captains and fundraisers for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s annual Walk MS event. When she’s not writing, editing, or soliciting her friends and family for MS Walk donations, she loves performing improv, hanging out with her husband and 5-year-old daughter, and cooking. Follow Sarah on Twitter @sarahsykeswalsh.

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