“Every single person, every single organization on the planet knows “what” they do. Some know “how” they do it . . . . But very few people or organizations know “why” they do what they do. . . Why does your organization exist?”

Simon Sinek*

Contrast these two statements describing a project:

  1. “Using Lean Six Sigma tools, we will reduce the cycle time in the pet adoption program by 50 percent.”
  2. “’We believe every pet deserves a loving home as soon as possible. Therefore, using Lean Six Sigma tools, we will reduce the cycle time in the pet adoption program by 50 percent.”
Which project would you rather support?
Which one is more exciting?
Hopefully, most of you picked the second one. Why?

We all know that teams work better when they rally around a common goal. The first statement succinctly describes that goal. It has the data and measurable outcome we Quality professionals crave. It describes the process to be improved. So what is missing?

What’s missing is the golden circlethe “why” of the project. The first statement only provides the “what” and “how.” The “what”, the “why”, and the “how” represent what Sinek calls the Golden Circle. The why represents an inside circle, which is surrounded by a second circle, the “how.” The outer circle is the “what.” It is typical for most of us, even major company CEOS and marketing professionals, to talk about the “what” and, sometimes, the “how”, but ignore the “why.”

It  is the “why” that inspires. One of the few places where emotion can play a valid and vital part in our Quality initiatives is getting an inspiring purpose or objective statement (or whatever you call it at your organization). That inspiration comes from the “why” and taps into our limbic brain.

Let’s pause for a quick look at brain biology. The limbic brain is the part of the brain that drives behavior and controls decision making. However, it has no capacity for language. It can’t shout out the facts and data driving the decision. It can’t say, “yo, I want that sports car because it goes really fast and makes me feel cool.” So, when we start with “why”, we talk to the part of the brain that controls behavior and drives decision. When we follow the “why” with data, we provide the “what” and “how” and the opportunity to support the decision with data.  Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” If people share your beliefs, they are more likely to engage. They will come along because they want to. Not just because they are being paid.

The order is important. Once we state the “why,” we can communicate the “what” and “how”. This is what Sinek refers to as communicating from the inside out. His research shows that it’s the order that separates the inspiring leaders from everyone else. Those who inspire start with why. As Sinek says, “Martin Luther King gave the I Have a Dream speech, not the I Have a Plan speech.”

At this point, you might be saying, “well, all of that is in our Mission and Vision statements. Can’t we just refer to that?” Sure, as long as one of them gets to the why and it’s not too broad to fit your project. For example, take a look at this mission statement from a global company: “. . .’s mission is focused on six core aspirations the company continually strives to achieve…..” There is no “why” here and little opportunity to fit a specific project without digging deeply into those core aspirations that go on for about 249 more words.

As you create that next project charter (or any document used to authorize a project), take the time to find the “why” for your initiative. It does not have to be a complicated process. We all have a classic tool at our disposal to start the process – the Five Whys. Start with a typical goal or objective, such as “Reduce scheduling errors by 30 percent before January 1.” Why?  So that we spend less time on rework and complaints. Why? So that we have more time to focus on what’s most important to the customer. Why? So that customers get the perfect experience each time. Why? So that customers are loyal to the company and are willing to refer their friends.

Now, you can create a new objective or goal that sounds something like this: “We believe every scheduling transaction should contribute to creating a loyal customer. Therefore, we will use Lean tools to reduce scheduling errors by 30 percent before January 1.”

Spending just a few minutes on the “why” for your team may provide a huge difference in the type of cooperation and collaboration received. It’s much more fun to work with inspired people, than those just showing up for the pay check.

*Simon Sinek is an author best known for popularizing the concept of “the golden circle” and writing the book “Start With Why”. His popular TED talks can be found on You Tube.


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