(This post is part 1 of a four-part series which describe the foundational pillars of Why-Based Organisations. The topic of this first part is “Start With Why”)

WBO start w whyYou know those organisations that just seem to be on a special mission? The people there seem to exude possibility and commitment for what they’re doing. They are companies that inspire trust – among their employees, customers, and spectators alike. In my experience, these organisations are like that because they know their Why2.

In Simon Sinek’s 2009 TED talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” (one of the most watched TED talks of all time), he explains the people and organisations that inspire action in others – and evoke trust, loyalty and followership – think, act and communicate in exactly the same way. And it’s the exact opposite of everyone else. They think, act and communicate starting with why.

We recently ran a Why Discovery Workshop for a mid-size retail bank that provides banking and credit facilities primarily for people who have not had credit before or have lost it due to difficulties they have encountered in their lives. We worked with a group of their senior team and a few carefully chosen other passionate people across the organisation to help them discover those things that make them most proud, most fulfilled in the work they do. Then, we asked them how doing those things makes a difference to the lives of their customers. After staying with the dialogue for awhile, their experience of and connection to a Why started to emerge.

They began to experience a sense of shared purpose.

Julie stood up and told a story about John, whom she had helped to prepare his application for a bank account and credit card. He had very recently got a job, but was still living in a rough part of town and had no fixed abode.

To get regular accommodation, he needed a bank account and also a financial reference, but to get a bank account, he needed an address – a vicious cycle with no way out. But through some committed action from Julie, John got an account, and then a flat. She explained how she has supported him to better manage his finances in a sustainable way as he began thriving in his new life.

She had tears in her eyes when she told this very touching story, which resonated with many people in the room. Then someone said, “you believed in John, and never gave up on him!” As people in the room listened to the story, many felt inspired, and some reported having goosebumps.

Suddenly things became very clear to this group.

The sense of purpose they shared was about believing in people, people who had been abandoned by others, and then helping them get access to the world of banking, credit and finance, opportunities that most other people enjoy and take for granted.

We quickly paraphrased this into;

“We believe in people to enable them to have more choices in life”

One of the group members stood up and said, “we need to change our website!” She described the current online credit scoring part of the website where, after answering some basic questions, people could find out if they qualify for a credit card. If they did not, the software simple said “sorry, we are not able to offer you a credit card.”

She continued, “but if we believe in people, like Julie did, we should never say no to them.” This made so much sense, the group decided to change the website so that if someone did not meet the scoring criteria, the message simply said, “sorry, not now” and offered simple steps to take to improve the score, inviting them to apply again. Then, consistent with the new approach, the prompt added, “then we’ll be delighted to give you a credit card.”

Someone else said, “our advertising needs to change.” He went on to explain that currently this was all about features and benefits of their credit card’s terms and conditions over and above other providers – instantly a campaign was created with the working title, “we’re in your corner.”

Over the coming months, many things in this organisation were tested against their Why, and after some dialogue, ideas were accelerated if they fitted, reshaped if they were a bit off, or stopped if they did not fulfill the bank’s Why. Whenever I see the new adverts on TV I smile, remember the workshop and the profound relationship that this group of people generated to the very thing that bound them together, that had so effectively remained hidden and undiscovered in the day-to-day rush of “normal business activity.” I also know the work went much deeper than merely changing a slogan or a poster, but began a process that reworked the bank’s operations from top to bottom.

Like this bank, organisations that Start with Why are grounded in and are able to articulate their purpose, their Why, the very reason they exist and the difference that they make to others. When purpose is deeply felt, at a personal and visceral level, it serves as a north star, and helps true up decisions, communications, and of course, branding and advertising. We believe that the best organisations of the future Start with Why, a higher purpose that goes beyond short-term profit or growth.

I learnt in that workshop one simple thing. You know you’re on the right track in discovering your Why when talking about it gives you goosebumps.

WhyNot Partnering (www.whynotpartnering.com), an organisation dedicated to transforming the nature of work, by creating Why-Based Organisations3, where trust loyalty, collaboration and integrity are the norm – and high performance the outcome. To stay connected with us and to hear more about our work, follow us on LinkedIn.

2Why – your purpose cause of belief, the very reason you exist and why anyone should care – (As defined by Simon Sinek in one of the most watched TED talks of all time) Watch TED talk link
3For further information on Why-Based Organisations, visit whynotpartnering.com