Insights


At our Vantage book club, we’ve just finished reading Simon Sinek’s, START WITH WHY. Sinek explains an intriguing idea in START WITH WHY; that businesses should communicate from the inside out. This means when someone says “tell me about your business”, you start by explaining WHY your company exists, then HOW you do what you do and finally WHAT you do. As the title suggests, this is the concept of starting with WHY.

Sinek explains that starting with WHY is more than just a new structure for your elevator pitch. Starting with WHY inspires people to join your cause and is a powerful communication tool that can be implemented across your business.

Here are three ways we think businesses should consider starting with WHY:

1. Culture: Consistently communicate your WHY to employees.

Sinek uses Gordon Bethune’s turnaround of Continental Airlines to explain how starting with WHY aligns everyone and builds a culture of trust. Before Bethune’s tenure Continental was considered the worst airline in the industry, had just lost $600M and suffered from serious trust issues. Armed guards even roamed the executive floor of Continental’s headquarters.

The very next year Continental made $250M, but what changed? Turns out, Bethune gave his employees something to believe in. He “set out to prove to everyone at Continental that if they wanted to win they could win” and communicated this WHY strongly throughout the organisation.  By giving your employees something to believe in, you create a culture of trust and align everyone’s interests towards the same goal.

2. Strategy: Use your WHY to guide strategic decision making.

The founder of any new business is fuelled by a strong passion and clear understanding of WHY their business exists. Initially this WHY is influential when making strategic decisions and ensures that all decisions align to the company purpose, sending a clear message to employees and customers. However, as a business grows, the WHY starts to fade, and this dilution affects decision making. The business no longer has a clear vision and structure around which to make major decisions. At this point employee and customer loyalty begins to decline impacting performance.

To reinstate this critical guide for strategic decision making and inspire renewed loyalty from your employees and customers you need to rediscover your WHY. To do so Sinek suggests looking back to the founder’s source of inspiration for starting the business.

3. Marketing: Start with WHY when explaining your business to customers.

The law of diffusion states that 85% of the market won’t buy a new product until someone else has tried it (the 85% consists of Early Majority, Late Majority and Laggards, see below diagram). To reach mass market success a business must first sell to the remaining two segments (the 15%, consisting of Innovators and Early Adopters).  Buyers in these segments make purchasing decisions very differently to the others. They trust their intuition and make their decisions based on higher ideals like how the product reflects who they are as a person. The buyers in these segments are more interested in what you believe than the physical product you’re selling.

 

 

Sinek uses TiVo to illustrate his point. TiVo focussed more on WHAT they did (fast forwarding and rewinding TV) than WHY they did it. As a result TiVo never managed to gain the loyalty of the Early Adopters and without their support could not win over the late majority. To gain mass market success and loyal customers businesses should start by explaining WHY they exist.

If you would like to know more about START WITH WHY we recommend watching Sinek’s TedX talk.

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My philosophy is that there is always a way to solve a crisis, as long as you’re engaged early enough.

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I believe that clear strategies and organisational alignment are fundamental for long-term business viability.