Getting to why

Getting to why

Answering three simple questions is the key to clear personal and organisational communication. It's inspiring. Simon Sinek has codified a framework to help an individual or organisation explain their purpose, and what they do. He’s the author of Start with Why(Penguin, 2011).

It's a model that has worked faithfully for me for the last four years or so. I'd recommend trying it out and sticking it in your communications toolbox if you find it useful.

Simon Sinek's Golden Circle

Sinek's so-called Golden Circle is based on three elements: why, how and what. He described it in a must watch TEDx talk.

Why, how and what are the building blocks of organisational storytelling. They're three of Rudyard Kipling's six honest serving men from the book The Elephant's Child.

"I Keep Six Honest Serving Men ..."

I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who. I send them over land and sea, I send them east and west; But after they have worked for me, I give them all a rest.

I let them rest from nine till five, For I am busy then, As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea, For they are hungry men. But different folk have different views; I know a person small— She keeps ten million serving-men, Who get no rest at all!

She sends'em abroad on her own affairs, From the second she opens her eyes— One million Hows, two million Wheres, And seven million Whys!

Academics and journalists learn to use who, what, when, where, why and how for information gathering and research.

The subset why, how and what work as the basis for almost any form of communication from key messages to mission statements, and from boiler plates to elevator pitches.

Once you've answered why, how and what, and added a sentence or two of justification, you'll have 250 words to explain what an individual or organisation does.

Start with why

Using the Golden Circle as a tool

Most people and organisations start from the outside of Sinek’s Golden Circle. They’re able to say what they do and how they do it. These are straightforward and are typically defined by activity, time or place.

Here are my personal what and how.

I practice public relations to help organisations engage with their publics in a two-way dialogue (what), using a variety of media (how).

This is where most people and organisations begin and end.

Sinek says that the most successful people and organisations communicate from the inside of his Golden Circle out, starting with with why?

They state their purpose right up front. It’s an inspiring way to engage and motivate a public.

Why, not what, or how

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” says Sinek.

The flippant answer to why is often "to make money."

But making money isn’t a purpose, it's a by product of doing good work or running a good organisation.

The other extreme are organisations with an over inflated sense of purpose. You’ll have come across their mission statements.

Business writer Lucy Kellaway recently called out examples in a recent column in The Financial Times.

She cited Asana, a company that sells instant messaging software, “it exists to help humanity thrive by enabling all teams to work together effortlessly.”

Kellaway also called out 3M, Barclays, Citibank, Facebook, KPMG and Microsoft for over stretching their purpose.

If an organisation hasn't got a why it's unlikely that it will realise its potential. It needs a rethink.

My professional why is to help people and organisations listen to their publics and simplify how they communicate so that they engage in the best way possible.

The outcome is dialogue, understanding and ultimately trust.

Let me know how I'm doing.

Definition fatigue

Definition fatigue

50+ writing tips and tricks from my network

50+ writing tips and tricks from my network