Why do we go to work every day? Why do our companies exist? Why is our company going to exist in the future?
“Why” is the fundamental question every business leader should be able to answer, immediately, with absolute clarity. Without knowing why a company exists and the purpose of the business, the people who work for an organization cannot align their own, individual beliefs and values with their leaders’ in order to create the future.
Answering “why” a company exists is much more than stating that the purpose is to generate profits. It is more than meeting the needs of its customers. The vision, the intent, and the higher purpose of an organization is what binds both customers and employees and creates loyalty, trust and commitment. Without these elements, what are people supposed to be innovating? In what direction? Why?
Simon Sinek authored a book titled, “Start With Why” that I encourage people to read. He also gave an excellent presentation at TED:
A business, first and foremost is a collection of people connected through some sort of common purpose. In the absence of a clear “Why” a business exists, people fill the void with their own interpretations. Unfortunately, when this goes poorly we see political in-fighting because people become focused on meeting their own personal objectives over the goals of their company.
Mr. Sinek points out in his book that people basically fall into two camps. First are the visionaries, people who see things that others do not and are inspired to create the future. The other camp are the operators, people who make the plans and carry out the activities that make the future a reality. An organization needs a balance of both types, and in varying degrees. It is not better or worse to be a visionary or operator, there is ample space for each type of person.
One important message from this book is that innovation cannot be commanded. It must be supported by leaders who create an environment where great ideas can happen, and who trust that the people they select for the task will get the job done. The people selected to achieve innovation should be like-minded in their pursuit of a cause. A cause is not cheaper, faster, better products. A cause is the inspiration for “why” a company exists in the first place.
Why does your company exist? Is your leadership inspiring or manipulative? Do your customers believe in the same things you do? It is never too late to find out “Why”.
Roy Luebke is an innovation expert focused on discovering new, customer-driven opportunity areas to help define the future of a company. He is inspired by knowledge and learning, and applying structured tools and methods at the crossroads of strategy and innovation to achieve business growth.