Don’t Stop with Why

“People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.”
– Simon Sinek

Simon Sinek popularized the “Start with Why” trope. His book of the same title introduces the concept of The Golden Circle.

The Golden Circle

According to Simon Sinek,

“For ‘The Golden Circle’ to work properly, you must have the clarity of why, the discipline of how and the consistency of what. No one section of ‘The Golden Circle’ is more important than the other. The most important thing is a balance across all three.”

“The concept of WHY is grounded in the tenets of biology. How ‘The Golden Circle’ works maps perfectly with how our brain works. A cross-section of the human brain shows that its layout perfectly correlates with the three major components of ‘The Golden Circle’.”

And yet, despite this advice and the science behind it, I’m not surprised how few leaders truly appreciate and follow through on understanding and consistently articulating their “Why”. Starting with why often gets short shrift when it comes to organizational change in general and moving to Agile ways of working in specific. I’ve observed many reasons for this.

  • The convenience of following a proven recipe. Blindly copying everyone else’s “what” without understanding how it fits into their deeper purpose or distinctive culture.
  • Assuming what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. An efficient one size fits all “Why”. Not realizing that what’s in it for me (WIIFM) is not the same as what’s in it for you (WIIFY).
  • A failure to discern the forest from the trees. The “why” becomes so obvious and implicit for those leading the change that they forget to start with why for those who are asked to follow anew.

Those leaders that do invest time and thought to crafting a clear “Why” statement feel a profound sense of insight. A statement so simple and elegant that their grandmothers would grasp it. A touchstone to aid decision-making.

Start with why? Absolutely yes.

But don’t stop there.

“Why” isn’t enough. There will be more questions beyond why like WIIFM and WIIFY.
“Why” is only part of the story. A good story has a beginning and an end. A coherent “Why” bridges the gap between start and finish.

Elise Olding of Gartner introduces a simple yet effective model to develop a compelling change story in “How to Create a Powerful Organizational Change Management Storyline”. It’s known as the “From/To/Because” model. The “From” describes the current state or start of your story. The “To” describes the future state or end of your story. The “Because” describes the why drivers that connect the start and end of your story. According to Olding,

“The From/To/Because model lays out behavioral shifts on a spectrum that ‘bookends’ the change to be made.”

Without a compelling change story:

  1. Actions and decision-making at all levels will be suboptimal and at cross-purposes
  2. Confusion will ensue. The marketing rule of 7 states that prospects need to hear a message 7 times before they’ll act. Applying this to organizational change, if the messaging around change is inconsistent and/or vague, the rule of 7 will multiply several times before leaders and staff get it, if at all.
  3. A holistic win-win-win opportunity will be missed. Developing a fulsome change story will uncover multiple layers of opportunity and growth – for business, customers AND employees. Turning a flat, uni-dimensional why into an exciting multi-dimensional rallying cry.
  4. The change will be slow if at all and the benefits will not be clear.

How can we tell if we have a compelling change story?
Here’s a simple litmus test. Ask people to describe what the change means to them, to the business and to their customers. Ask leadership, ask staff and ask customers.
If all the responses are similar 80% of the time, that’s compelling and chances are everyone gets it. And what about the other 20%? That may be what differentiates the WIIFM from the WIIFY.

Can we stop now? Why would you want to? Don’t stop with one story.

The end of one story is the beginning of the next.

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