Understanding the Why

WhyI remember a few years ago when CDH leadership first introduced a video from TED by Simon Sinek on how great leaders inspire action. Sinek’s emphasis throughout the clip is that businesses and their members should focus on why they do what they do.  He postulates that some of the best businesses, individuals, teams, etc. have a shared mindset on why they exist.  Essentially, all businesses know what they do.  Most businesses know how they do it.  Very few understand why they do what they do.  I found the video interesting, but these grandiose examples of Apple, Martin Luther King and the Wright Brothers seemed inapplicable to my daily life and place at CDH. Concurrently, CDH began utilizing a why statement centered upon making a difference.

I wasn’t sure what kind of buy in would be obtained by the use of a Why statement.  In fact, I had never heard of a Why statement in business.  It certainly seemed like a different way of thinking, but it required quite a bit of trust from all the team members at CDH to believe it was the right way of thinking.

In April of 2013, our CEO, Bill Hubly, approached a group of Managers and Seniors about having us create a new Vision and Why Statement for the future of our firm.  We all had to spend a lot of time in self-reflection trying to answer simple questions – why do we come to work, why do we do what we do?  Our first meeting was interesting and many commonalities occurred despite various types of personalities and backgrounds.  One thing that stuck out to me was that many people commented on how they enjoy making a difference to their external clients.  They enjoy helping their customers’ business grow and run more effectively, while sharing their knowledge with their clients.  Many people described the same kind of enjoyment from mentoring team members in their department and seeing them develop.  Since that time we have met in smaller groups and we have a meeting coming up on July 2, 2013, to combine ideas and hopefully, write our new Vision and Why Statement.

This past Monday I attended one of my last MBA courses.  The class was Entrepreneurship/Venture Management and we had a guest speaker for about 90 minutes to start the class. He was born in China and moved to Hong Kong at an early age.  Ultimately, he moved to the United States and started working for Lehman Brothers with a focus in the Asian market (as he speaks nine languages).  After many years working at Lehman as an investment banker in the Asian market, he decided to go out on his own.  He is now described as a serial entrepreneur.

After his biography he went on to give us some advice.  Interestingly enough, he said the most successful businesses he has seen as an investment banker or as an entrepreneur have been those that understand Why they are in business.  Then, he used Apple as an example of a company that truly understands Why they do what they do and how that has driven their success.  He remarked on how many computer companies are out there and said that Apple is more successful than the others because they understand the Why.  He then went into the biology of the human brain and talked about how compelling it is to discuss the Why instead of the how or the what.

I was confident he had seen Sinek’s video as it felt like he was quoting it directly. He has reviewed a lot of business plans in his life and said what a business does and how they do it is easy to figure out even if you are external to the company.  The companies that set themselves apart when submitting a business plan to attract investors were those who understood Why they did what they did.  He believes this holds true when you are talking about customers instead of investors, too.

After his presentation I asked him if he had heard of the video and to my surprise, he had not.  He was quite happy to hear that other people out there thought like him and that what he presented was his own belief through many years of experience with a lot of companies and people.  I sent him an email the next day with the link to the TED website and Sinek’s presentation, and received a quick reply about how much he enjoyed the video.

I strongly believe a company that understands Why it does what it does and truly believes in it can be extremely successful.   We will finalize our new Vision and Why Statement this summer and present it to the leadership group.  Once finalized, I am hopeful the entire firm will buy into the new Vision and Why Statement, as that is what it will take to make it a success.

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