In 2009, Simon Sinek wrote his acclaimed bestseller “Start With Why,” and if you’re late to the party and haven’t read it yet, the premise is exactly what it sounds like: Before you start anything, identify your “why.” For most of us, 2009 was defined by the debut of Modern Family, the song, “I Got A Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas, and Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift at the VMAs. (No one else? Just me?) I’m sure the possibility of a global pandemic was far from crossing the mind of Simon Sinek, yet this piece of writing feels more relevant in the year 2020 than ever before.
Over the past nine months, most operations have faced adversity, be it directly or indirectly, and have had to make significant pivots in how they do business. With no set precedent to base these decisions on, and no clear gauge on the future, the best foundation to guide these decisions is a company’s “why.” Knowing who your brand is and why they do what they do, and having the assurance that everyone is in alignment with that, allows you to use the justification “This is who we are, and why we do what we do.”
There are some golden cases of companies who so evidently live by their “why.” Take outerwear mogul Patagonia. If you’ve visited their website, subscribed to their emails, looked at one of their products tags, or simply interacted with their brand in any way, you can easily deduct that this company is motivated by protecting and promoting the wellbeing of our environment. This is their “why,” because it drives everything they do. This “why” is what qualifies their job candidates. It’s the common goal that turns co-workers into teammates. It’s the guiding light for deciding which materials to source or what to post on social. When the “why” is clear and established, it permeates a business from the inside out, top to bottom. It’s the unspoken force that’s leading everyone in the same direction, in unison.
So. Do you even have a “why”? The knee-jerk reaction here is to say yes … but this is a safe space. Sinek states that you could tell me what your company does, and maybe how they do it, but likely couldn’t tell the random passerby why your company does what they do. That’s a hard pill to swallow for some. Let’s walk through the stages of “not knowing your ‘why’” grief, together.
Shock & Denial
I know, you’re shocked. How could a “why” not have been established before? And if it exists, how could you not know what it is? “Our company has a why, it must. I just don’t know what it is.” Perhaps so, but you failing to know your company’s existing “why” points to a disconnect in internal marketing, or a misfit with the “why” itself.
You’re mad because of all of the time you’ve lost without a clear “why.” You’re thinking about all of the things that could have gone smoother with a defined “why.” Don’t stay angry for long — you can’t change the past.
“But we have a mission, vision, and values, don’t those count as our ‘why’?!”
No, I won’t accept your vision or values as your “why.” Your vision describes an aspirational ideal; it’s a “what,” not a “why.” Your values describe how you do business, not why. The only pre-existing standard you’ve established that I MIGHT accept as a “why” is a mission statement. But, similarly to the good ol’ square and rectangle brain-twister, a “why” is always a mission, but a mission isn’t always a “why.”
I’m just going to let you sit with all of that for a second. Take it in.
Alright. You don’t have a defined “why.” You know it, I know it, and the people around you probably know it. And it’s okay. So long as you’re taking the right steps to define and live by your “why” moving forward. And the best part? The end of 2020 and start of a new year is an opportune time to define your brand’s “why.”
Each time your company undergoes significant growth or change, Simon Sinek and I would challenge you to know your “why” and let it guide you. If you don’t know what that is, it’s probably time to define your brand identity, or rethink it completely.
Need a partner to help you define your “why”? Willow’s got you.