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We get the why, focus on the how

Updated: Aug 12, 2020

A few years ago, Simon Sinek came to the mainstream with The Golden Circle concept: Start with Why.

In short, he states all organisations function on three levels: what they do, how they do it, and why they do it. He argues people do not buy what you do, they buy why do it. The why is your purpose, cause, or belief. It's why your organisation exists. Companies around the world have raced to embrace this.

And that's because our brains work from the inside of the circle out: first we feel, then we do. Our brain primarily runs on emotion—we rationalise things after the fact.

In New Zealand, we've seen Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reflect The Golden Circle principles as she's spoken to the nation throughout Covid-19. Hey Kiwis, does this message sound familiar?

We are a team of 5 million people. And when you're in a team, you're kind to your teammates. How do you show kindness right now? The best way to be kind is to stay home and save lives. What does this look like? [Insert Alert Level guidance here].

Here's my three line summary of our Covid-19 response communications.

  • Why: We're a team of 5 million.

  • How: Stay home, save lives.

  • What: specific actions you can do based on Alert Level.

Direct Relief credits this as one of the reasons our Covid-19 response has been gold star.

But now we need to focus on the how

The why is all great. We need that to get on board. But we decide if we want to stay onboard based on how the how is pitched. How conversations at work involve how you deliver and how you work together.

Use these questions to start your how conversations

If everyone on the team cannot answer these, it's a sign you really need the conversation.

  • How do we communicate as a team?

  • How do we have meetings?

  • How do we collaborate?

  • How do we make decisions?

  • How do we get training and development on the job?

  • How do our strengths and weaknesses show up at work?

  • How can we know and use individual's strengths to help the team?

  • How do we work best? (also how do we not work best?)

  • How do you have healthy conflict within the team?

  • How do you keep yourself and the team happy and healthy?

  • How does work get allocated to us?

  • How do you decide the priorities?

  • How do you share progress, blockers, and updates with the team?

This year has reminded us all that these questions are never stationary—but should be flexible and adaptable.

Flexible working

We're navigating a global crisis. How we live, work, plan, and play has fundamentally changed and is changing. Everyone reading this has experienced Covid-19 induced changes.

Let's take flexible working as an example. If you aren't having this conversation with your team it's either because: a) you already have and it's resolved or b) you're sticking your head in the sand.

It's a sticky subject and one that Covid-19 forced onto the agenda of every team and organisation.

Many people, including most of the skeptics of flexible working hours and locations, understand the why of it. They'll agree with you about many of them. Stop trying to sell them on the why when their worry is the how.

  • How will you deliver in this flexible way?

  • How will the team connect?

  • How will your team and leader know your progress?

  • How will you ask for help / get help?

  • How will you build relationships and engage with the people you need to?

"Bottom line: If you want your manager to approve a proposal to work flexibly and you want that flexibility to succeed day-to-day then focus on “how” you will get your work done and not on “why” you want the flexibility." Forbes

We're employed to achieve results—by doing what we do. Of course we have personal and organisational whys that connect us with what we do. But how we deliver? Well, that depends on a lot of outside variables.

My advice? Assume no one knows the how. They don't until it's spelt out. I'd put my focus on having the how conversations: how you deliver and how you work together.


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