The Trouble You're Having with Articulating Your Why
I admit it. I am complete guilty of everything I'm about to share with you. As the CEO of a fast-growing company, I was inspired by Simon Sinek's Ted Talk, "How Great Leaders Inspire Action". As of the publishing of this article, he's inspired more than 24 million people with his simple phrase, "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it."

And yet, as moved as you were by this Ted Talk, I'm willing to bet that since that inspirational speech, you've been obsessing over your company's purpose by thinking deeply and trying to clearly articulate the "why" of your business. That was the point, after all, wasn't it?

Actually, no, it wasn't.

You see, people are visual learners. As the Chinese proverb goes, "Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand." Simon Sinek told us exactly what to do, but he DREW a concentric circle with the word "Why" in the middle. While you were moved by his words, it's that bullseye with the word "Why" that keeps you obsessing about your company's purpose. And yet, if you listen to the words he says, you'll come away with a much different conclusion.

It's What Your People Believe That Truly Matters
Imagine my surprise, when I discovered what was right there in front of me all along. Go back and listen to his Ted Talk (without watching the video) and pay attention to what Simon Sinek actually says. I didn't discover this on my own. No, my coach, Chad Cooper, sent me a link to Roy H. Williams "The Wizard of Ads" video who broke it down for me, and it's embarrassingly simple.

Rather than focusing on clearly articulating your company's "Why" statement, fold a piece of paper in half and on the left-hand side write, "We believe" several times. On the right-hand side write down ONLY statements that are observable by your employees and customers alike (as opposed to something that is "global and ambiguous"). The example Mr. Williams used was, "We believe in doing our best" or "We believe in doing the right thing not the easy thing". The problem with these statements is that while they may be true, they are not observable and therefore do not reinforce a true belief system.

Instead, Mr. Williams walked through several small business examples of belief statements that are, in fact, observable by your employees and customers. For Goettl, an air conditioning company, these belief statements looked like this:

We believe in showing up on time.
We believe in super-sealing the air ducts because no one needs to air condition their attic.
We believe in eliminating every squeak, rattle and hum, because if you don't bigger problems will come.
We believe in replacing every screw--even the ones other people left out--so that we can tighten the unit up like new.
We install everything level, plumb and square because this is the signature of a superior technician.

Take a minute to stop and absorb what you just read. Every one of these belief statements are observable and measurable are they not? Does this feel like fluffy "shareholder value" doublespeak? Would you want to hire this company to come in and fix any and all problems related to your air conditioning unit?

And that's the point, isn't it? So I ask you, would Simon Sinek agree that this company has found their "Why"? Does this company not remind of the part in Walter Isaacson's book Steve Jobs where Steve Jobs talks about how important getting the INSIDE of the computer right? This is when his young team was complaining about no one ever seeing the inside of their computer. But Steve Jobs was obsessed with making every component neat, tidy and representative of the best company in the world--because we know better and we don't take short cuts.

Turning Belief Statements to an Actionable Reality
But Mr. Williams didn't stop there. He suggested that once you identify these observable belief statements, have your team recite them every day, as a group, similar to the pledge of allegiance. It's easy to ignore management-led mission statements and dismiss lofty, "global and ambiguous" doublespeak. You simply can't recite these statements each day and then go out and do the opposite. As human beings, we are compelled to act out the things we really believe. If you worked at Goettl as an air conditioning repair person and repeated these belief statements before you started your day each day, is there any chance you're going to cut corners while out in the field? Not likely.

What's more, Mr. Williams advises his clients to ditch their "About Us" link on their home page and instead replace it with a "We Believe" link. Not only will more prospective customers click on it, but when a real person can envision in their head a core belief system that benefits them directly, it's really hard to sign on with anyone else.

If you could clearly envision an air conditioning repair person showing up on time, replacing screws on the shoddy work someone else did, super-sealing air ducts, and installing everything level, plumb and square, wouldn't you even pay more for that piece of mind? Now, imagine a video where each one of those belief statements were recited by a different employee and you, as a prospective customer, could see the honesty and integrity first hand. Yeah, that's powerful.

Feel free to watch Simon Sinek's Ted Talk again with these new insights, but first, do yourself a favor and watch the Roy H. Williams "The Wizard of Ads" video. Then, take the time to run through his simple exercise. You will be living the very mission that Simon Sinek wanted you to in the first place.

Published on: Nov 11, 2015
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