Why ‘Starting with Why’ Matters to the PMO

Start-With-Why-Cone Start-With-Why-Split


I’ve just finished reading “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek.  As promised it is both fundamental and meaningful.  Fundamental in that it’s main conclusion is very similar to “Built to Last” by Jim Collings, that while a company can indeed flourish for a while without a strong WHY, or after it loses its WHY, it probably won’t endure for long.   Meaningful because it informs the precious ‘coherent strategic intent’ that is so important in organization alignment and strategy implementation (and reminds me that I really shouldn’t waste my precious time working for companies that don’t inspire me).

The first diagram above shows how a strong, inner WHY emanates through the HOW of executive-led execution, to the product or service  realization of WHAT.  The second diagram illustrates the core tenant of Built to Last – that after time and/or a certain amount of success companies often lose sight of their WHY as the WHAT takes over and dominates.

The Fundamental Observations

  • There are two ways to motivate – through manipulation / incentives, or through inspiration.  Of these, inspiration is the stronger, more sustainable.
  • We don’t buy things, we buy ideas based on emotion, and in that, perspective matters: [tweetherder]”We don’t want to come to work to build a wall, we want to come to work to build a cathedral”[/tweetherder].
  • All great leaders have clarity of WHY: an undying belief in a purpose or cause bigger than themselves, and in an organization, the ‘Golden Circle of WHY, HOW, WHAT, form a cone, or megaphone, with the CEO at the apex, transmitting their message through the executives who know HOW to get the message out, and the rest of the organization working on the product or service, which is the WHAT.
  • The WHY is an expression of a personal value statement by the CEO, and not market research, or Lean Startup experiments.  It can be quite independent of the actual Mission.   Richard Branson’s consistent WHY – “to do things better” – has spanned record stores to Airlines, soda manufacturing, and space ships.
  • WHY inspires customers to buy your product.  This is not ‘lifestyle’ purchasing, and not Value Proposition purchasing.  It is Value purchasing. 
  • To be successful, everything the organization does should be consistent with the WHY, the underlying purpose and value of the organization.  Trust in the brand is built up through this consistency and ‘authenticity’
  • That over time, once a certain level of success has happened, or the founder with the WHY has moved on or died, then the WHY seems to fade away, and all that is left is the WHAT.

The Meaningful Insights (for a PMO)

  • The WHY is the Vision in the Vision/Mission statement.
  • The WHY forms the backbone of the coherent strategic intent which aligns throughout across the organization.
  • The WHY is the True North of the organization.  A strong WHY will align the organization without need of proxy metrics or goals.
  • The ability to inspire its customers leads naturally to several of the four engines of growth from Lean Startup.  Customer retention (repeat purchases), and also the viral engine of customers attracting their friends to the product.

The WHY matters very much to the PMO, who forms a key part of the HOW.  [tweetherder]The WHY critically affects both what metrics are used to measure success, and which criteria are used to filter and prioritize projects[/tweetherder].  

Paul Osborn

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