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Inspiring Action: Starting with Why

Inspiring Action: Starting with Why

Ally Jones

Let me paint a picture...

When people are looking for their next opportunity and reading a job spec, they'll see the 'what' - the tasks and responsibilities that detail what they'd be doing in the role. Some might include a little bit of the 'how'. For a lot of people, this is a game of fact checking. 'Am I capable of this?' 'Do I have the right experience?' Tick, tick, tick.

Savvy businesses get that just because someone ticks the experience box, it doesn't mean they're the right fit for the team or business. You want someone that shares the same values, that feels connected and motivated by your mission and vision. You want to feel the fire in their belly!

This isn't about attracting and hiring carbon copies of ourselves - far from it (because frankly we know that for a business to thrive, they need an inclusive and diverse team) but about having that shared belief that together, you're changing the world for the better.

Of course, this isn't limited to just hiring and the same rationale can be applied to the whole employee life cycle; whether people feel loyal to a company, how flexible they are, how excited they feel to rock up to work on a Monday. As a leader of the business, you need to be able to connect the 'what' and 'how' of someone's role to the 'why' - the super power they bring to the team and the impact they have.

Why? You might ask. Because if you want to influence your team to consistently dig deep and perform, setting some stretch goals isn't going to cut it. You need to tap into the part of their brain that's hard-wired to respond to emotion - their limbic system.

Before you roll your eyes and think I'm being fluffy and waffly, this isn't just theory - it's science.

Introducing The Golden Circle
Author and inspirational speaker, Simon Sinek calls it The Golden Circle - a helpful concept in visualising the layers of our feelings and actions and how these directly correlate to our brains and how they work.

Sinek's Golden Circle has three layers - an outer layer (the 'what'), a middle layer ('how') and a central core ('why'). The outer layer (the part of our brains known as the neocortex) helps us work through facts and figures.

The middle two layers of the circle - the 'how' and 'why' - are responsible for our behaviour and emotions. They represent the part of our brain we use to understand our feelings - such as trust, loyalty and motivation. This is what we call the limbic system, and it provides the reasons for people choosing to turn up to their role each day and perform at their best, aside from just paying the bills.

How can I use this to make my team perform better?
If you were to Google 'What drives high-performance?', you'd get a whole lotta' responses (pretty close to 449,000,000, actually!). Whilst everyone's put their spin on it, there are a few consistent trends that high-performing teams have in common:

  • They feel psychologically safe with one another
  • They can depend on one another
  • They have clarity around their role + what's expected of them
  • They feel their work is personally important + they feel part of something
  • They feel their work matters + creates change

It's these two bottom ones that really connect with Sinek's theory of Why. They're about purpose and being committed to the cause.

Where do I start?
On paper, you might think that one of the biggest reasons your business exists is to make money. If that's you - let me stop you there. Financial reward is an outcome, not a Why.

Ask yourself, why does this business exist?, What difference do we make for our customers?, What's wrong with the world, and how are we changing that?

Understanding these things is the key to unlocking a real sense of purpose in your teams; helping them feel connected to the bigger picture and the contribution they make. If you don't know your company's purpose, you can't demonstrate it to the people who need to make it happen - otherwise we're all just robots pressing buttons.

What about motivating my team day-to-day? I can't always link back to our Company's purpose.
The science applies to almost every decision we make - from our buying habits to the way we respond to change. Whilst it's important to be able to help people see the connection between their contribution and the reason the business exists in the first place, you can use the science of the Golden Circle to influence your team from system changes to encouraging that final push at the end of the sales quarter.

The trick - unsurprisingly- is to start with Why when you're communicating with your team. Let me give you an example. Let's say you're launching a new quality matrix for your Customer Happiness team. Most leaders would communicate:

We're launching a new quality matrix for how we monitor and check our calls ('the 'What') and we'll start recording all of our inbound and outbound calls from Monday (the 'How')." Painful, right? Pretty much guaranteed to get people's backs up as you open up the door to speculation about why this change has come about.

Let's try again, starting with Why.

To demonstrate just how well we look after our customers and to make it easier for us when something doesn't quite go right (the 'Why'), we're going to start recording all of our calls (the 'How'). This'll form part of the new quality matrix that we're launching on Monday (the 'What').

Keep practicing!
As with anything, this new way of communicating takes a little practice. The next time you're planning to share something with your team, or you need to influence someone - try starting with Why first.