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Why the 'Why' is so Important

A key activity in strategic planning involves asking the questions, “Why do we exist?” or “Why are we in the business we’re in?” The answer to these questions then becomes our Purpose or Mission.

At Compass we happen to do a lot of strategic planning with our clients, so focusing on why is something that comes second nature to us. Interestingly, the pandemic created an opportunity for us to ask ourselves ‘why’ for a whole different set of reasons. We re-examined 'why' we do what we do again to confirm, which then led to 'who' do we want to do it with, 'where' will we do it, and 'how' best to do it. That one question allowed us to re-evaluate and make conscious decisions about our business and those we serve.

Asking ‘why’, is the most important question we will ever ask. Whether in our business or our personal lives. It reveals the reason or explanation behind how we choose to behave, respond, and think. And knowing our 'why', then helps us identify our priorities- who, where, how, and when.

We thought it might be helpful to chat a bit about the different ways we can incorporate the ‘why’ into every area of our business or organization.

1. With Boards or Owners.

This is where it begins- having leadership at the highest levels be able to clearly articulate why the organization exists or why we are in the business we’re in. ‘Why’ brings clarity and alignment towards a common goal. And having that clarity makes it much easier to communicate and move forward together as a team.

Having a solid purpose (or ‘why’) is one of the key reasons we succeed or fail. Purpose is what motivates us, so if our purpose isn’t strong enough, we won’t achieve our goals because they won’t be a priority. There will be too many other distractions that will be much more appealing, so we’ll fail to act on what really matters.

2. During times of change.

We should take every opportunity to share the ‘why’ behind our organization’s purpose, especially when there are changes going on. Being transparent gives our staff a feeling of safety. When we don’t share the reasons behind change, it can lead to gossip and rumours.

The more people know about why things are changing, the more easily and likely they are to adapt. Because even though they may understand and trust the bigger picture, they may not make the connection behind why they are being given a new task or responsibility.

3. Attracting and retaining good employees.

These days top talent is drawn to organizations that have a strong purpose (why) and cultures of transparency. These qualities are what connect employees to the ‘bigger picture’. And understanding the impact of our work is motivating and unifying. It increases confidence, which encourages more new ideas to be brought to the table.

The feeling of safety that comes from transparency, leads to employees who make more solid decisions because they’re not acting out fear or self-interest. Those employees who know ‘why’ are our most valuable because they see that big picture. Asking ‘why’ shows a desire to learn and form ideas about the world around us, so one of the most important behaviours to encourage in our people is to question ‘why’ and ‘why not’.

4. In all our communications.

It’s very easy to share information and forget that every message we impart is an opportunity to connect the dots for our audience. Unless it’s something purely transaction, we can seize the occasion and help them understand how the message/activity supports our greater purpose. Why it matters. And subsequently, why their call-to-action is meaningful. Understanding the ‘why’ behind even the smallest task can make it feel like a team effort.

5. During our planning meetings.

Beginning with ‘why’ means our planning will be strategic, because ‘how’ is tactical. Understanding why we are doing anything is how we assess whether it’s truly worth doing. It’s when we skip examining the 'why', that we end up with less effective and often overly complex solutions.

‘Why’ gives us perspective and helps to establish priorities, so that tactical planning becomes much easier and more effective. ‘Why’ becomes our guide and gives us a deeper understanding of ‘how’.

So, don’t leave the ‘why’ to only your strategic planning activities. It’s a critical piece of every level of the work we do and will guide us to what matters most. If we just take the time to ask.🙂

“A wise man’s question contains half the answer.”

– Solomon Ibn Gabirol


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