A business without a why is like a leader without a purpose. However, it’s easy to mix up a goal with a “why,” and this is where things often go wrong for businesses. Let me explain.
A goal is just a destination — a place you want to go to. Don’t get me wrong; goals are important, critical even. But they merely serve as temporary destinations in a broader journey.
Let’s say you’re on a cruise with five destinations (goals) along the way. If the “why” of a cruise is to relax and disconnect while exploring new places, this should serve as the foundation upon which everything else is built. Individual destinations are smaller goals in pursuit of this larger undertaking. This “why” reminds the crew and management what they’re doing outside of tactics and execution. It’s the guiding light that helps shape the perfect trip.
Running a business is no different. Employees aren’t satisfied with simply completing tasks and achieving goals anymore. These days, people want to know why they’re doing something. Why do they get up in the morning? Why do they work for your organization? If they can’t answer these questions, they’re not going to be very happy.
To make things worse, the bigger a company gets, the hungrier the team becomes for purpose. When employees are unsure where they’re going next or why they’re going there at all, they begin to question the business itself. However, if everyone is clear on the why, it ends up acting as a calming influence, especially when the waters are rough.
Why Finding Your “Why” Is Important
In practical terms, having a “why” is vital for everyone in a company, from the CEO to the intern. If we understand why we do what we do, we can decide what to do next and when to do it. And in many cases, we can do so autonomously, knowing that we’re working toward a common cause we all believe in.
I’ve seen the negative effects of losing sight of your “why” in small, medium and large organizations. When executives are unable to stand for something greater and communicate it to their teams, the effects are devastating. Today, it’s whisperings in the corridors; tomorrow, it’s mass exodus.
So ask yourself this: as a leader in an organization, do you truly know why you do what you do? If the answer is yes, are you communicating this to everyone in the organization? If you are, then great. If not, here are my recommendations.
Examine and Question Your “Why”
When you’re at a young or growing company, the team is relatively small, the business is young, and agility should come easily. If you’ve lost sight of your “why,” take some time off. Get out of the office and talk to friends, family — even your dog if you need to. Dig deep into your soul and get to the root of why you started this company, why you fight every day to win, and what it is that drives you. Write down your thoughts. Place them on walls, sleep on them, talk through them. Ultimately, you’ll emerge with a succinct message that outlines your “why.”
Once you have something you feel makes sense, push yourself on it. Question it, probe it, and be sure that you believe it, because you’re going to live with it for many years to come. If it isn’t something that truly means something to you — if it’s simply some words on a wall — then you’re headed for disaster, or at the very least, some hard and depressing years of unfulfilling work.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Assuming you get to a “why” that truly works, the next bit is easy: communicate, communicate, communicate. Oh, and communicate some more. Explain to your team, your execs, your investors, to anyone and everyone, what your “why” is. Use spoken words, written words, even pictures if you need to. The goal is to make sure your “why” is understood and believed by your team.
Identify People Who Don’t Buy Your “Why”
Finally, look for the dissenters — those people in your organization who don’t share your passion for the “why.” I’ve found that the best course of action is to part ways quickly. This will skirt the risk of them sitting quietly, going unnoticed, meanwhile eating away at your organization from the inside until it’s too late to repair the damage.
Seeing Your “Why” in Action
When you truly understand your purpose and communicate it well, the effect on your team is nothing short of euphoric. When you’re working in harmony and united by a single purpose, things will begin to happen that inspire you and others.
For example, at Ceros, our “why” is to unlock creativity. We aim to do so among ourselves, our customers, our partners, and everyone we interact with. But this purpose often manifests itself in ways I never could have imagined when I was first starting out.
A few weeks ago, two of our employees held a jam session at our office. I was standing in the office we had created as a team, with a team of people we’d brought together around a common purpose, and listening to two of those people creating beautiful music together. It brought a tear to my eye, and was a stunning reminder of the power of “why.” It creates a bond, a drive, an energy, and a focus for my team that’s unsurpassable.
To sum things up: find your “why.” Do so today, and communicate it well. You’ll soon discover what you never even knew you were missing out on.
BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.
Image Credit: CC by Nguyen Hung Vu