Why ‘WHY’ matters when influencing others

Positive mini-swirlAs a coach it’s absolutely fantastic to get regular news of how my coachees are progressing. Many have moved onto more senior roles within their present companies, or been headhunted into new ones. Others are moving lock-stock-and-barrel to new countries and / or taking up roles with a global reach, and some are commencing ‘retirement’ with a new sense of purpose and fulfillment. I couldn’t be more proud.

... success 2 years running

… success 2 years running

One client that has been with me the longest is a business that fascinates me. Langland is the most globally awarded health advertising agency in the world – recently winning the coveted Cannes Lion award for the 2nd year running. In a recent conversation with the Chief Exec Phil Chin, I rediscovered the work of Simon Sinek and the ‘Power of Why’.

It reminded me of the amusement arcades back in the 1950s where I used to stand in front of an ancient machine with a glass screen, behind which was a frozen tableau. As a child I’d stare into these static scenes trying to make sense of what might be going on. I’d put my old Penny into the slot and watch as the clockwork mechanisms kicked in. I was then rewarded with a kind of clarity; a wardrobe door would open, a dusty ghost would appear, the old man in the bed would sit up, gape at the ghost, then lie back down – presumably dead from fright.

But the clarity was limited. I understood the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of the old man’s death but couldn’t grasp the ‘why’ from the scene in front of me. And let me tell you, just because I always asked the ‘why’ question led to me being characterised as ‘insolent’ as I grew up in the care home system. I remain curious as to the ‘why’ of things ever since.

Phil Chin reminded me that this is the most important question of all.

When developing our skills as a team supervisor, departmental head or even a senior leader, it’s easy to focus on the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of getting things done. It’s straightforward and appeals to the intellect and falls in line with how most of us have been educated and skills-trained. However, being able to better communicate the ‘why’ of things appeals to our deeper emotional selves, and therefore provides a link from the purely rational comprehension of the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ to the emotional and motivational connection that helps make change both a personal responsibility and therefore more sustainable.

... successful change is neither straight nor strangled, but somewhere in between

… successful change is neither straight nor strangled, but somewhere in between

So if you’re in charge of any form of process or programme change or business restructure then you might want to reflect on this. In my experience it seems that those individuals most gifted at programme improvement – although immensely technically competent – easily overlook the fact that we are first and foremost emotional beings. And if you haven’t already done so, make sure you figure out a compelling reason ‘why’ for the changes envisaged – an emotional connection to something that gets people engaged, enthused and eager to get involved with the improvement journey – and learn to communicate it effectively.

This situation reminds me of why Apple has been so incredibly successful. The ‘why’ of their being in business is connected to values around the highest possible design principles linked to the best possible customer experience linked to cutting edge funkiness. This makes sometimes ‘mindless’ loyalty a really weird characteristic of a typical Apple fan.

It becomes apparent that if we are to progress process change and improvement successfully then we need to first ‘sell’ an intangible and compelling ‘why’, followed up by the very tangible ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘when’ of classical programme management.

As for me, should I ‘unlike’ my Apple computers and phones etc? … Nah!

As for you dear Reader, if you’d like to speak to me about how to get your people onside with your change agenda, then call or text on me 07760 270 392. In the meantime, you can read about Phil and Langland here.

Go on…

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