THE POWER OF WHY

There has been so much written about Vision and Mission that we hesitate to even use the words. We often wonder if the terminology was deliberately made so confusing so that consultants can hawk their services and perpetuate their revenue streams (present company excluded, of course!). What is a very easy to understand concept has been distorted and complicated to a point that most people roll their eyes when the subject is even brought up.

Let’s start with what a Vision is not:

  • It is not an all encompassing statement that explains everything about a company. These statements end up meaning nothing because they try to please everyone.
  • It is not made up of really big words or something you would see on most company’s walls
  • It is not meant to be arrived at completely democratically or solely by critical thinking. You have to engage the heart and be willing to ignore that which is not helpful.
  • It is not easy to come up with. At the same time, when you get it right, you and everyone else will know it.
  • It is not a marketing message repackaged as a vision. It must be true.
  • It is not achievable – at least not in totality. In other words, it is at it’s heart an ideal you are going to constantly strive for.

Ok. So what is it? The term Vision has been so maligned, that we prefer to think of it this way:

“Why do we exist” or “What would NOT happen if we did not exist?”

So how does a team or indeed an organization go about designing it’s Vision? By asking the above questions again and again until the answer resonates deeply with the team.

Occasionally, owners will point to the Profit and Loss statement and say “It’s all about making more money”. While there may be a small percentage of companies where this is actually the truth, the vast majority of company leaders would agree that profit is not the purpose of the business. For a for-profit venture – Profit is the first order of business, because without it you cannot stay in business. But it is not the purpose of the business.

The reason why so many companies seem to have lost their soul, is that employees do not know WHY the company exists and it seems to be about making as much money as we possibly can. This leads to low morale, low engagement levels, poor customer service, and ultimately low levels of productivity and profitability.

While determining your team’s Why can be daunting, we have found that it typically falls into one of a number of buckets.

The ‘Buckets’ That WHY Can Fall into…

  1. The Greater Cause: It is easy to see how non-profits can be connected to a cause greater than themselves. Think ‘end child abuse’ or ‘end world hunger’. However, for profit organizations can also have a WHY that falls into this category. For example, Southwest Airlines exists to democratize air travel, ensuring that average Americans have access to affordable air travel.
  2. Focus on The Customer: Often organizations find their WHY in those they seek to serve. They want to do something for their customers that either will not happen without them, or that is not happening for the customer the way they feel it should. Nurse Next Door is a home health company that saw the entire industry they were part of being focused on clinical health care. They decided that they wanted to change the customer experience to being more about caring and quality of life.
  3. Challengers and Disruptors: Some organizations see themselves as challengers/disruptors. They see the world (or perhaps the industry they are part of) as lacking something. They see their job as challenging the status quo in everything they do. Virgin, led by Sir Richard Branson is one such organization. Whatever they do, they challenge the preconceived notions of how things should happen in that industry. The Virgin Brand has become synonymous with challenging the status quo.
  4. The Experience: Some organizations look at a particular experience and look at every touch point they could have that makes that experience better. For example, an organization passionate about pets could be involved in every part of the experience associated with owning a pet. Many small entrepreneurial businesses fall into this category, as they were started by a person with a love for a particular hobby or knowledge of a particular field.
  5. Focus on the Employee: There are organizations that exist primarily to serve the needs of employees. For example, Goodwill is an organization that exists primarily to put people to work that may not be able to get work anywhere else. Another example, could be a company that sees it’s purpose as creating jobs in an area of a city that lacks solid opportunities, or a company that sees it’s purpose as giving people hope through solid employment.
  6. Improve the Community: Many organizations find their WHY in a desire to improve the communities they are part of. For example, an organization might be committed to the revitalization of a city’s downtown core.

Working on your team’s ‘WHY’ may be the most difficult project you have ever undertaken. It also promises to be the most rewarding and transformational. Remember Goethe’s couplet:

“Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men”

The Power of Why

There has been so much written about Vision and Mission that we hesitate to even use the words. We often wonder if the terminology was deliberately made so confusing so that consultants can hawk their services and perpetuate their revenue streams (present company excluded, of course!). What is a very easy to understand concept has been distorted and complicated to a point that most people roll their eyes when the subject is even brought up.

Let’s start with what a Vision is not:

  • It is not an all encompassing statement that explains everything about a company. These statements end up meaning nothing because they try to please everyone.
  • It is not made up of really big words or something you would see on most company’s walls
  • It is not meant to be arrived at completely democratically or solely by critical thinking. You have to engage the heart and be willing to ignore that which is not helpful.
  • It is not easy to come up with. At the same time, when you get it right, you and everyone else will know it.
  • It is not a marketing message repackaged as a vision. It must be true.
  • It is not achievable – at least not in totality. In other words, it is at it’s heart an ideal you are going to constantly strive for.

Ok. So what is it? The term Vision has been so maligned, that we prefer to think of it this way:

“Why do we exist” or “What would NOT happen if we did not exist?”

So how does a team or indeed an organization go about designing it’s Vision? By asking the above questions again and again until the answer resonates deeply with the team.

Occasionally, owners will point to the Profit and Loss statement and say “It’s all about making more money”. While there may be a small percentage of companies where this is actually the truth, the vast majority of company leaders would agree that profit is not the purpose of the business. For a for-profit venture – Profit is the first order of business, because without it you cannot stay in business. But it is not the purpose of the business.

The reason why so many companies seem to have lost their soul, is that employees do not know WHY the company exists and it seems to be about making as much money as we possibly can. This leads to low morale, low engagement levels, poor customer service, and ultimately low levels of productivity and profitability.

While determining your team’s Why can be daunting, we have found that it typically falls into one of a number of buckets.

The ‘Buckets’ That WHY Can Fall into…

  1. The Greater Cause: It is easy to see how non-profits can be connected to a cause greater than themselves. Think ‘end child abuse’ or ‘end world hunger’. However, for profit organizations can also have a WHY that falls into this category. For example, Southwest Airlines exists to democratize air travel, ensuring that average Americans have access to affordable air travel.
  2. Focus on The Customer: Often organizations find their WHY in those they seek to serve. They want to do something for their customers that either will not happen without them, or that is not happening for the customer the way they feel it should. Nurse Next Door is a home health company that saw the entire industry they were part of being focused on clinical health care. They decided that they wanted to change the customer experience to being more about caring and quality of life.
  3. Challengers and Disruptors: Some organizations see themselves as challengers/disruptors. They see the world (or perhaps the industry they are part of) as lacking something. They see their job as challenging the status quo in everything they do. Virgin, led by Sir Richard Branson is one such organization. Whatever they do, they challenge the preconceived notions of how things should happen in that industry. The Virgin Brand has become synonymous with challenging the status quo.
  4. The Experience: Some organizations look at a particular experience and look at every touch point they could have that makes that experience better. For example, an organization passionate about pets could be involved in every part of the experience associated with owning a pet. Many small entrepreneurial businesses fall into this category, as they were started by a person with a love for a particular hobby or knowledge of a particular field.
  5. Focus on the Employee: There are organizations that exist primarily to serve the needs of employees. For example, Goodwill is an organization that exists primarily to put people to work that may not be able to get work anywhere else. Another example, could be a company that sees it’s purpose as creating jobs in an area of a city that lacks solid opportunities, or a company that sees it’s purpose as giving people hope through solid employment.
  6. Improve the Community: Many organizations find their WHY in a desire to improve the communities they are part of. For example, an organization might be committed to the revitalization of a city’s downtown core.

Working on your team’s ‘WHY’ may be the most difficult project you have ever undertaken. It also promises to be the most rewarding and transformational. Remember Goethe’s couplet:

“Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men”