Ward Alles

Why you can’t always start with why

By Ward Alles on January 28, 2014

World-renowned branding expert and author Simon Sinek claims that companies should “Start with WHY.”

The idea? If employees within an organization passionately believe in the company’s mission or greater purpose, that shared WHY message can give their lives further meaning and they will all work harder together to ensure the mission succeeds.

The theory makes sense.

However, after running a business for the past 20 years and serving as a brand consultant, I believe WHY is actually the second question you should pose to your employees.

The first is WHICH. As in, “which one of the following areas do YOU fall within your organization”:

  1. innovation
  2. production
  3. operations
  4. integration

You see, each employee at your company is hard-wired, based on their personal aptitudes (not to mention role within the company) to answer a different set of questions before he or she will ever care about connecting to the WHY of your company.

INNOVATORS within your company are naturally inclined to ask WHY NOT? These people are entrepreneurs. Visionaries. Inventors. R&D folks. Such individuals are driven to create new solutions based on bold thinking.

Telling an innovator to first ask WHY (i.e. what’s the purpose or meaning behind our company?) will be an absolutely foreign concept to him. After all, “we’ve got new products and services to develop!”


Same goes for the PRODUCERS in your business. These are the sales and marketing professionals in your organization. They’re motivated by WHAT, as in: “What’s the goal? What number do I need to hit? What metric equals success – I’ll hit it.” Tell a top-flight sales pro she needs to start with WHY and she’ll look at you like you have bugs crawling on your face.

OPERATIONS? These folks ask HOW. “How can we do this process faster, cheaper, better, different? How can we continuously improve? How can we grow?” To these left-brained professionals, the bean counters, administrators and engineers of the world, WHY is the last thing on their minds.

And finally, there are our dear friends in management and HR, the INTEGRATORS, who are born asking WHO. “Who does this team need? Who do we include? Who does this decision impact? Who are we developing within the organization to move it forward?”

For each of these people groups, their in-bred, core questions of WHY NOT, WHAT, HOW AND WHO will always trump WHY.

The job of your brand development team is to show employees how their individual and departmental mindsets connect to a greater collective purpose or mission of the company. And to do so, you simply must acknowledge their value and their set of questions first. Not second. First.

Once you do, WHY will become relevant to them. Then your company’s WHY (its unique mission and purpose in the business world) can be the common denominator for every function of your business. And each of your employees can see how their role contributed to success along the way.

If you’re having any trouble getting your company to define or rally around your WHY, you’re not alone. Perhaps this line of thinking can help. We’d love to hear your questions or opinion on the topic. Comment here or call me any time to discuss. My direct line at Core is 414-299-3946. Email: ward@corecreative.com