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Why Your Why Matters When You Are Leading Change

When we ask people to do something difficult, like change the way they work, they are very unlikely to do it unless they understand the reasons that sit behind the changes, but the rationale itself is often not enough.  Unless not changing puts people in danger, they need something more than a logical argument to be motivated to make those changes.

They need to be inspired by a bigger vision or purpose, our business why.  But that’s not the only function talking about our business why has during change, it also serves as an anchor for our decisions when it seems like everything around us is changing.

Given the situation, we find ourselves in at the moment, surfing rolling waves of change and leading our teams through the uncertainty this brings, we are going to need to be clear about our business why more than ever.

It’s time to get curious and make some choices about why we need a why,  what difference it makes having a why when we go through change and why when I talk about why a lot I end up with the Tom Jones Classic Delilah in my head!.

Your Why and leading change

Ok so, maybe we won’t talk about Delilah, but if it reminds you that asking why and telling people why at least three times is important, I won’t need to apologise for the earworm.  And just to be clear if you end up singing the song in your head or looking up the lyrics, I am in no way suggesting that you use them to guide any actions apart from talking about why!

As we have discussed in previous episodes, when we are leading change, one of the things we need to do is talk to people about why things are changing.  What we are looking to do is win over people’s hearts and minds so we engage them in change.  And that means we need to look at the why we are talking about on more than one level.

Our Why inspires people's hearts and minds when we are leading change

To win over the logical mind, we need to provide a well thought through rationale explaining why we need to change, the logical part of our brain thinks in facts and figures.  Often, as we start a change process we know why we have to change, maybe the market we are operating in is changing, maybe there is a company-wide restructure, either because we are growing or because we are shrinking as a business.  We usually have some facts and figures which explain why we need to take action.  

When we share these we help win over people’s minds.  But as you will know from your own personal experience sometimes a decision makes perfect sense, you totally understand the rationale, but it just doesn’t feel right.

That’s because the logical neocortex part of your brain is happy with the decision, but the limbic brain, which deals in feelings first, isn’t.  

The limbic part of the brain is what controls behaviour and it does so without language getting in the way.  When we talk about a gut reaction to something, really what we are describing is the feelings created by the limbic brains reaction.

So to inspire people to change their behaviour we also need to appeal to the limbic brain and we do that by talking about the purpose of what we do, our mission, and our why.  Doing this consistently and clearly builds trust and loyalty to something that is bigger than the immediate change.

When we work with people whose business why either aligns with or inspires our own it feels right.  When we are asking people to do something they find hard, when we are asking them to pull against everything that is familiar and safe, they need to trust your motives and the direction you are heading.  Your business why provides them with that.

What does having a Why mean at a business wide level and how can it help us now?

Back in the early 90’s when I was finding my feet as a leader, businesses started to introduce visions and missions, hoping to inspire their staff.  It was based largely on the work of Stephen Covey and in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People where he talked about creating a personal mission statement and beginning with the end in mind.  

Like individuals, businesses used this as a way of aligning what we were trying to achieve.  Coming out of the ‘greed is good’ era of the 80’s and the economic crash at the end of the decade, companies needed to find a way to keep people focused and moving their businesses forward despite the recession.  

The companies who survived and performed well tended to be those with clearly defined missions and visions, or if you would rather a clear why, that engaged people both logically and emotionally.  Those whose mission was to make lots of money for their stakeholders didn’t do well but those who set out to change the world somehow, for example, Apple who set out to change the status quo, did much better.  

It’s certainly a lesson we can all take and apply as we enter into what are going to be challenging economic times.

Simon Sinek's Golden Circle Model

The Golden Circle Model, described by Simon Sinek in his book Start with Why, puts our business Why in the inner ring of a bulls eye, surrounded by how we do what we do, which in turn is surrounded by what we do.  

It can be very helpful in making sure you have got to the heart of your why or your business why.

Let me illustrate the model using my own business as an example.  My personal why is to enable others to shine.  My business why is a version of that, it’s to create working worlds where people can add value and feel valued.  Now there are lots of ways I could do that, the one I focus on, my how layer,  is by developing Curious Choice Leaders, that is leaders like you, who get curious and make great choices.

If we then go to the outer circle the what layer of the model, these are the things I do to develop Curious Choice Leaders - Coaching, Consulting, Development Programmes, sharing ideas and things like this podcast too.

So knowing your company why, its purpose and the difference it wants to make in the world is going to allow you to win over the hearts of your team, as well as attracting clients and aligning your other stakeholders.

Simon Sinek' Golden Circles Model

Your Why matters when you are leading change as it guides your decisions

All important when you are leading through change - it also becomes like your compass guiding the way for you and your team.  People tend to feel a bit lost during change and when we feel lost we need something to guide us, our why is that north star for us to head towards. But that’s not the only reason being clear and talking about your business why is important during change. 

In the last episode, we talked about making decisions when everything seems uncertain.  One of the things we explored was how when our capacity to make decisions is reduced because we are using our processing capabilities to process the changes, it can really help to have a decision framework to make making decisions easier.

Our why should be the first part of that decision framework. The first gate that every decision has to get through.  And that gate is opened or closed by the answer to one simple question.  

Does this move us closer to achieving our business why?  

Quite simply if the answer is no, then the gate closes and there is no need to consider that decision any furtherOn first thought that might seem to limit your options, but when your why is big enough there will be plenty of things you can do to keep moving in broadly the right direction.  If you find yourself wondering if it does move you in the right direction or not, ask yourself how does this move us towards our why?  Your answer will allow you to work out if the movement is sufficiently in the right direction.

So your why matters because it helps guide our decision making, and if our why is strong enough for us and for the people who are working on this journey with us it can act as a winch pulling and pulling us towards it.

This is all supported by our values and our principles which guide how we act as humans and what is and what isn’t acceptable to us as humans and which reflect the outer two rings in the Golden Circle Model

Why does your Why matter when working with other people?

Now when we work for ourselves we have total control over our business why - we get to decide it, share it and make it what we stand for and put it at the centre of everything we do -  and that’s great, but what happens when we work for someone else, or when we have people work for us?

Well as team members we are looking for a why we can believe in, for values and principles that align with our own.

As leaders, therefore we need to share these things so people can decide if joining us is right for them.  Some people will decide its’ right for the long term, other that it is right for now,  and others will decide it’s not for them.  And whatever they decide is good, if they are aligned everything works well but where they are not the whole team can suffer the consequences in terms of stress, tension and lack of effectiveness in the team.  

Sometimes the first thing we know about our why’s not being aligned is a  vague feeling something is off and you can’t quite put your finger on it, sometimes it gets lots in the excitement of the work we are doing and then sometimes its a almighty clash, either with a manager or when you work with clients with one of them. Being clear about our why and talking about it often can help keep people aligned and help them decide if the alignment is no longer there and its time to go their separate way.

Right now we are seeing lots of people questioning and re-evaluating parts of their lives, a major change or crisis often has that effect.  As leaders our role is to make sure people know the purpose of the team, it’s why and the values and expectations that support that, so that they can decide what’s best for them, and if we are offering a working world where they can add value and feel valued in ways that are meaningful for them.

Summary & Taking Action

OK, so in this episode, we have talked about the importance of having a why, how it helps unite people and win over their hears as well as their minds as we ask them to join us on any change journey.  But it’s also much more than that, it in itself provides direction and shows us which way is forward, guides us when we feel lost in the messy middle of change.  It can also help us make our decisions giving us something constant to check them against.If your wondering what your business why is, I have created a worksheet for you to help you figure it out.  You can download it here.

The things I share are based on my experiences and some will be more relevant to you than others - it’s up to you to decide what you take and apply from this podcast.  That’s what curious choice leadership is all about - getting curious and building our understanding then evaluating what we find and making choices about what’s right for us and our businessSo the question I would like to leave you with is, 

What's your business why?