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Why: The magic question

We all know “what” we do. My “what” is that I teach people to grow their businesses. My buddy from college is a doctor who helps sick people. My dad manages a trucking company. My friend is a high school football coach.

That part is easy to define. When we tell someone what we do, they typically nod and say, “OK,” and go on with their day, uninspired.

Next, we all know “how” we do what we do. I teach people to grow their businesses by conducting trainings and writing articles and books, among other things. My college buddy helps sick people by giving them medicine. My dad keeps the trucking company running by supervising workers and facilities. My friend teaches his team the skills they need to win football games.

That’s the process, and that’s also fairly easy to explain. When we tell someone how we do what we do, again they usually nod and say, “OK,” and go on about their business.

But the why is the magic question. The answer to that question holds the key to telling your company story with conviction in a way that gains people’s trust and loyalty. While we all know what we do and how we do it, we don’t always know why we do it.

It’s easy to say we run our businesses to make money, but that’s a result, not a driver. I understand that making money is a core element of business, but there must be something deeper. Uncover what that deeper thing is, tell people about it in a compelling manner and you’re on your way to making it happen. (Do this effectively, and you’ll probably end up making more money, too.)

Why is your company here? Why do you do this work? Research has found that the people and companies that most effectively communicate their whys are more likely to succeed and to get what they want. Those who first articulate why, then what and how inspire more trust and loyalty than those who begin with the what and how.

One of my whys is to help, serve and equip those I grow up with and around. It’s not my only why, but when I think about the purpose of entreQuest — to build mission-driven, growth organizations — (companies that not only want to grow their revenues and profits but also want to serve their employees, clients and the community in a more meaningful way) I know it is directly related to this why — to helping those in my community to do more, be more, and give more. This helps me connect my daily activities with a level of passion and intensity.

When I think of this particular why, I think of my friend, Larry Mitchell — the football coach I mentioned earlier. He is also dedicated to helping, serving, and equipping his community to do better.

Larry and I went to high school and played football together at Patterson High School. For the last 17 years Larry has been coaching football in and around the neighborhood we grew up in, but only this year did his dream of being head coach for Patterson come true.

This fall, The Baltimore Sun published an article about Larry and his journey to becoming head coach at Patterson — after reading this article and hearing Larry’s story it’d be hard for anyone to not recognize and understand Larry’s why. In 2001, Larry was in the wrong place at the wrong time — he inadvertently walked into an armed robbery and was paralyzed on the scene.

This didn’t stop Larry though, or even slow him down. He was shot in January and was back coaching by August! Even at during his darkest moments right after the shooting, Larry’s why was always obvious — to help the kids on his team be their best!

I challenge you to really think about your whys. Why do you do what you do? Why does your company exist? More specifically, I encourage you to list out 25 reasons why you for your chosen career. There are no wrong answers, but the answers must come from the heart. Then circle your top three reasons. Do another 25 reasons why list, this time for your company, and circle the top three reasons.

Now, create your own personal story, one that incorporates your big why from the first list. Write down your story and practice telling it to others: colleagues, employees, friends and family members. Next, create the story for your company that incorporates the reasons from your second list of whys.

This story should communicate why your organization exists, what you do and how you do it, with emphasis on the why. Finally, practice telling your company story and make adjustments as you observe others’ reactions.

One comment

  1. Having done similar exercises in the past i can admit to the power of your exercise. While I scoffed at this at first 10 years later i can tell you my connection to my why is a key factor in the success of my business.