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Does Your Organization Have a Clear 'Why'?

Amanda Sollman

Does your organization have a clear "why"?

Several years ago, Mark introduced me to a TEDx talk that continues to stick with me to this day as one of the best I've heard. The presentation was delivered by a man named Simon Sinek and was titled, "How great leaders inspire action." You can watch the video below:

The message was so simple, yet so impactful: companies, organizations and individuals that start conversations from the perspective of what and how they do what they do will never be as successful as those who start with why.

Examples of this are all around. Apple. Patagonia. Martin Luther King Jr. The Wright brothers. All of these companies and people had a deep sense of not just what they do or how they do it, but they also had a deep vision for why they create or take action. And it doesn't matter if they're producing computers or sweaters, revolutionizing civil rights or taking flight to new levels – when the 'why' is clear, others will invest in it with you.

So where does that leave your company? Does your organization have a clear 'why'?

The Nature of the Workplace is Changing

Shifting Expectations About Work (1).pngWade Johannes, our Director of New Business Development, recently had the chance to attend Gallup's "State of the American Workplace" briefing in Omaha. In this discussion, Gallup shared how the focus of employees is starting (or, for many industries, continuing) to shift. You can see in the image here just a few of these changes – ranging from what drives employees to where they see accountability coming from.

As many of you can probably guess, a lot of this shift is coming thanks to changes in generational dynamics. Millennials and Generation Z (the group quickly coming up behind us) tend to approach work differently. Looking at the words they use for their priorties – purpose, development, life – it's clear that their expectations are moving from what a company does to why a company does it. That's not inherently good or bad – it's just different.

And whether we like it or not, organizations will need to keep adjusting their approach to meet these expectations and retain talent.

You can't just have a 'why' - people need to know what it is

So, it's one thing to have a 'why' – it's a completely different thing to communicate it to your employees and have them embrace it. In addition to the aforementioned changing expectations, Gallup also found these perceptions from employees of all experiences and age levels:

  • Only 22% of employees think company/organizational leadership has a clear direction
  • Only 15% say their company/organizational leadership makes them feel enthusiastic about their future
  • Only 13% feel communication is effective throughout their organization

On the whole, employees are noticing a lack of organizational clarity.

Now, we've talked about individual clarity in the past and the idea that each of us needs to be very clear on what we're creating – our what, how and, most importantly, why – if we're going to execute at a high level.

These principles are no different for organizations. If you don't have clarity around your 'why' and/or you don't communicate it effectively and in a way that inspires action, your organization will struggle to recruit and retain talent.

So What Can you Do?

First things first, it's valuable to figure out if your organization has a clear 'why' already. How do you do that?

Ask your employees!

All too often, we attempt to "establish culture" by committee – and usually a committee of senior leaders. If you want to truly figure out the current culture of a company, though, you need to ask the people who work there what they're seeing. And it can start with one seemingly simple question:

"Why do you think our company/organization exists?"

I think this question could yield three possible answers:

  1. Everyone responds with a fairly similar answer that's inspiring and motivating. If that's the case – great job! Your organization has a clear 'why' that drives employee engagement and investment in your business – and you've communicated that effectively!
  2. "To make money." You've got work to do. Profits are great, but they should be the result of a good 'why' – not the 'why' itself.
  3. "I don't know," or some mixture of responses that show no consistency in perceptions. Again, this one requires some work. Either you don't have a clear 'why' or it hasn't been communicated well.

From here, the next steps are up to you. Maybe you need to create some core values that are used as your guideposts in everything you do so that people can really start to embody your 'why' and values every day. Maybe you need to communicate your values to a wider group of employees. Maybe you need to do more research into what your 'why' should be.

Regardless of what action you take, however, please please PLEASE involve employees from across the organization. A 'why' created in a bubble often becomes a mission statement posted on the wall that can be pointed out to stakeholders visiting the office.

A 'why' that all employees are invested in, however, becomes part of your organizational DNA – and that's how you truly start to thrive.

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