The WHY in Action
Tools can be used for many purposes. With a hammer, for example, we can simply hang a picture or we can build a whole house. Our WHY is an equally versatile tool, with applications both narrow and broad. We can use it to ace an interview or inspire our team. An entrepreneur can use it to guide a single new venture or to direct their entire organization. A company can use it to inspire a marketing campaign or to transform its corporate culture. One tool, many uses.
Another way to think of the WHY is as a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. When you know what your piece looks like, it’s much easier to see where it fits or doesn’t fit. Decisions can be made more quickly and with greater certainty. And when others can see your piece, they can see whether it fits with theirs. If it does, that’s when the image starts to take shape. In the real world, that looks like a team coming together to advance a common vision.
Finding the Right Fit
There are two ways to build a career or a business. We can go through life hunting and pecking, looking for opportunities or customers, hoping that something connects. Or we can go through life with intention, knowing what our piece looks like, knowing our WHY, and going straight to the places we fit.
It was break time for a group of senior TV execs going through the WHY Discovery process for their company. As everyone else made a beeline for the coffee, Susan, the HR director, walked over to her colleague Jim. “I don’t think we should hire him,” she said. For several weeks, Susan and Jim had been debating whether or not to hire a candidate for a critical position. They had conducted a wide search and narrowed down their short list to just one person. On paper, he looked great. He had all the boxes checked. But something just didn’t feel right. “I didn’t know what the problem was before,” Susan said. “But now it’s so clear." Jim finished her thought. “He doesn’t believe what we believe.”
Thanks to the WHY Discovery process, Susan and Jim had experienced the same epiphany. The candidate in question had all the right qualifications, but he was missing something incredibly important. He couldn’t champion their WHY. He was up for a key role and leaving the position empty for another few months would absolutely hurt the company. But they resolved then and there, right next to the snack table, that regardless of any short-term pain they might suffer, they would keep looking until they found someone who could do the job and would be the right fit for their company.
Putting Words to your WHY
It’s easier to hire someone based on their résumé. It’s harder to hire someone for their cultural fit. The reason is pretty obvious. We usually hire because we have a job that needs to be done. We look at the résumé to see if the candidate has the skills and experience to do that job. Facts are involved. For better or for worse, hiring for cultural fit is usually less about facts and more about how it feels. Irresponsible executives will ignore that feeling (a.k.a. their gut) whereas good executives will listen to it. The problem is, it’s still a feeling.
In the case of the TV executives, their gut feeling that the candidate was wrong for their company, even though his skills were right, was strong enough to cause them concern. But their inability to articulate why they felt he was wrong kept them from using their gut feeling as the basis for making the decision. This happens to the best of us—when all signs say “go,” yet our gut is telling us to hold back. It’s because we are about to make a decision that’s out of alignment with our values and beliefs. As soon as a company’s WHY is put into words, the culture becomes a little more tangible and the right decision becomes clear immediately.
It would be nice if business was purely science, but it isn’t. While some parts of a business are predictable, tangible and easy to measure (think profit, revenues and expenses), the fact is, there are huge parts of a business that are unpredictable, intangible and hard to measure (think vision, inspiration, trust ... and hiring someone to fit the culture). It’s not that we don’t understand the value of the intangibles; it’s that we have trouble explaining what that value is. Sometimes the intangible values are abandoned because the internal or external pressure to “make the numbers” overwhelms concerns about the company’s long-term well being. Or sometimes intangibles get ignored because we lack the ability to fully grasp or explain them, to have the patience to nurture them or to know which yardstick would accurately measure them. If we had the right tools to manage the intangibles, we’d probably give them more attention.
The opportunity is not to discover the perfect company for ourselves. The opportunity is to build the perfect company for each other.
Tools help us keep track of inventory inside a company, but what tool can help us gauge the cultural fit of a potential employee? We can easily calculate profit by deducting our expenses from our income, but how do we accurately measure the discretionary effort of our workforce? We can know a customer’s purchase history, but how do we know if they trust the company? Having no answers to these questions is the reason too many companies hire for skills before fit, talk about culture but don’t know how to build it and fail to create deep, human connections with their employees and customers.
The WHY is a tool that can bring clarity to that which is fuzzy and make tangible that which is abstract. Used properly, it can be used to hire, to develop strategies and to communicate more clearly (internally and externally). The WHY can help set a vision to inspire people. The WHY can guide us to act with purpose, on purpose.