Skip to content

The Power of ‘Why’ in Strategic Thinking

Bill Jarrard's picture
Disruptive technology. 
Changing government policy.
New market trends.
Increasing competition from unexpected sources.  
 
These are some of the reasons recent clients have sighted for focusing on the need to be more innovative, and for rethinking their strategies.
 
In the last few weeks I have been facilitating strategic thinking with the boards of an art gallery, a community health centre, and an aged care village, a senior team at a large defence contractor, the executives of a city council, and a specialist team at an international logistics company.  
 
This has involved Fore-sight discussions to look into future, Imagineering activities to explore how they might embrace change better, as well as an review of how to make innovation happen.
 
And not unexpectedly discussions start with the purpose and mission of the organisation.  What I’m seeing is that many companies do not have a clearly defined purpose that truly resonates with its customers or people.  
 
Purpose or mission statements like: 
‘to become the largest most successful provider of______ in our region’,
or ‘to increase stakeholder value’,
and other similar statements that feature in company strategic plans offer nothing to inspire anyone.  
 
And purpose statements such as:
‘to provide products and services that exceed customer expectations and sustain our growth into the future’, similarly do not inspire anyone to become loyal advocates and passionately committed employees.
 
The problem is these sorts of statement do not touch on ‘why’ the organization exists, what its cause and passion is.
 
They don’t inspire staff to jump out of bed to get to work, and they don’t attract and keep customers to the business.
 
In fact recent research from Harvard and other sources tell us that less than 30% of people are engaged in the ‘purpose’ of the organization.
 
So developing a purpose that expresses the true ‘why’ of the organization is vital to success.
 
In his  classic TED Talk Simon Sinek describes this well when he discusses The Golden Circle.   
"How Great leaders inspire Action: TED 2009
 
If you haven’t viewed this, do so now and then reflect on what you might need to do to fully engage your people in the purpose of the organization, and turn customers and other stakeholders into passionate advocates for you.
 
In his talk, Sinek uses the examples of Apple, The Wright Brothers and Martin Luther KIng. 
 
Consider these examples.
 
With the aged care board I worked with we started with a mission ‘to be the most successful aged care provider in our region by providing high quality care to our residents.’ 
 
After some work on what they really did, the purpose became ‘to support ageing members of our community so they transition through old age with dignity, love, and respect’.
 
Imagine how this change in their ‘why’ shifted the way everyone involved with the organization thought about what they did, and how they did it.  
 
This was a purpose or mission everyone wants to get up in the morning for.
 
Or with the art gallery whose mission said ‘to deliver world class visual arts exhibitions featuring local artists, and to enhance the reputation and success of the gallery’. 
 
A short facilitated session changed this ‘to introduce people across our community to the adventure and joy of the visual arts, particularly the unique and wonderful work of our local artists’.

Again imagine how this changes the way the gallery might we perceived and supported. 

 
Understanding and being able to communicate the ‘why’ of your organization in ways that resonate with your people, customers, stakeholders, and the broader community inspires everyone, and is a vital step in creating a culture that is opportunity seeking and ready to make innovation happen.  
 
 
 
Simon_Sinek_GOLDEN_CIRCLE_how_great_leaders_inspire_action_Why_Mind Map