Why "Why" Is Important For Your Company
“This was just a wild idea my friends and I came up with while we were drunk at a party. We never thought it would become an actual business.”
That’s the story one founder shared when I asked him why their company existed. Had I asked, “how do you come up with this idea,” his response (let’s call it the “Partier’s Why”) would certainly have been appropriate and very much amusing. However, in the context as important as establishing the soul of his company his answer fell woefully short.
A company’s “why” is an inherently profound statement, borderline philosophical, but always easily understood. This type of writing is hard to achieve but is of utmost importance for two reasons: external messaging and internal alignment. As you’ll see, the founder above misses the mark on both.
If you’ve read Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why, then you’re at least superficially familiar with this idea. A strong why is used to communicate with potential clients, investors. It acts as an invitation to a story. A customer should feel not just that they are welcome in your story, but that they are the hero of it.
We live in a world of excessive choice. With a plethora of options, your company must stand out as the logical and most natural choice. Crafting a powerful and simple “why” statement helps you communicate that you have a solution to your customer’s problems which makes it easier for them to choose you.
Let’s look now at why the Partier’s Why fails by doing a simple thought exercise. Let’s propose they sell a keyboard that helps you type faster and reduces the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. Does their why invite you into the story? Would you trust them to take care of you? Chances are, no. They failed to recognize that a company’s why is different from its origin story, and because of that, they haven’t crafted a statement that engages the customer.
The application of a why statement for internal alignment is less recognized, so if you can leverage it effectively you will set your company apart. A why statement does two things internally: it grounds your high-level decisions, and it communicates purpose to your employee base.
Executive leadership is forced to make critical decisions that affect the trajectory of their company. To ensure they stay true to their values, and don’t overextend their capabilities, they must remember why they started the company. Facebook exists to “...build community and bring the world closer together.” Any acquisition or strategic business decision that does not bring them closer to realizing this goal becomes easier to dismiss. If in my business I’m asked to do something that doesn’t further my mission, it’s easy to say “no."
Looking then at communication of the why to your company’s employee base. Knowing why they’re doing something is key to improving productivity. When I was in the Coast Guard, we lived by our missions. Search and rescue was about more than saving lives; we were fulfilling our duty to promote the safety of our nation’s waters. We endured sleepless nights chasing narcotics smugglers to live up to the mission of maintaining the security of our nation and its waters. Keeping focused on a purpose that was greater than a paycheck allowed us to achieve a standard of work seen in very few companies.
Returning to the Partier’s Why for a final time. The focus of their why was on the company’s origin, it existed in the past, and provided no vision of a better future. If this were communicated to a prospective employee, they would be immediately confused what the company exists to accomplish. Simply put, the story, whimsical and fun as it is, will not attract and retain even average talent.
I don’t want to be too harsh this company. The truth is they did have an exciting product that added value to the market and has potential. I’m cautiously optimistic for them, but nervous that as they scale they will struggle to engage their employees. I do hope, for their sake, they accept outside help from somebody and deliver a better story that resonates internally and externally.
I’ll end by sharing Passions and Talent’s why and I leave it to you to decide if it shares a solution, invites in a customer, serves as a grounding point for decision, and creates a vision for employees to live up to. If it doesn’t, I’d ask you share your reasons for thinking so. Everyone can use some objective help. After all, it’s easier to help others than yourself.
“I help you create a culture that attracts more customers, retains better talent, and boost profitability.”
If you’re interested in creating a similar narrative for your company, I’d invite you to schedule a call with me to discuss your specific needs.