As three-year-old, we annoy our parents with repeating the same question over and over again: Why? With everything we discover, we want to understand the background immediately. A simple answer does not satisfy us and we ask further and further.
At some point our parents made it, we fall silent and don’t ask anymore. At least towards the outside. Inside it remains the guiding question of our curious being for our lifetime. Especially as a leader, I have to be aware of this.
Simon Sinek has written a great book about this. During his career in sales, he asked himself what brings people to buy things. He was fascinated by the fact that some companies had built such a strong brand that the product itself was almost secondary to the customers. They could hardly wait for the next product cycle and were willing to even pay excessive prices to own the latest version of the product. His question was simple: Why are they doing this?
He described his findings in his book “Start with why?“ If you don’t have time for an entire book, you can also watch a short summary on YouTube („Start with why – how great leaders inspire action“ ).
As you might have guessed from my introduction, he refers to Apple’s success, among other things. Apple’s products are mobile phones and computers in their core business. From that point of view, it is a technology manufacturer like many others: IBM, HP, Acer, Microsoft, etc.
These markets are fiercely contested by this competition. Others were even there earlier and had an advantage through powerful alliances in the corporate business.
Apple was able to set itself apart from the competition because it was not perceived as a nerdy technology company. Check out the Mac vs. PC commercials from 2012. Apple doesn’t sell mobile phones and computers; Apple sells a lifestyle. The product behind it must be of high quality, but it is subordinated to the sense of belonging.
I’m aware that some may have their own opinions about Apple at this point. But for all our sympathy or antipathy, we should admit that this brand has been incredibly successful.
What do we learn for our day-to-day leadership? When we have to “sell” something to our customers or our employees, we usually tell the story the other way around:
“It’s about cost savings. We will set up and qualify cost reduction measures. We will convert them into an implementation plan and have it approved by the Board of Management. We are doing this to remain competitive.”
We start with the “subject”, the “what” – as we have learned in business correspondence. Then we describe the procedure because we want to create transparency about the next steps. Finally, we put the reason behind it as a justification.
We have fulfilled our duty to provide information, but what does the recipient understand? Once again the usual cost-cutting round, which makes my life more difficult and will cause me headaches during the coming weeks. The addressees are not in the boat here – they rather feel like being part of the slaughter cattle.
The story can also be told the other way around:
“The competition in our industry has grown steadily in recent years. Cheap competitors from the Far East, in particular, are generating considerable cost pressure.
We are convinced that we can maintain our position in the market through our local presence and our superior quality. We are starting a collection of ideas to increase competitiveness and will to combine them into a powerful action plan.
The aim is to make the company competitive together for the next few years.”
In this way, we have got the employee on board and given the company a completely different starting point for its work.
Why? is the essential question when you ask someone for something: “Why should I do that? “. Sometimes, of course, it is even enough to say “because you would do me a favor”. But that’s also important – it pays into the mutual favor account.
After all, all people seek purpose in their actions. If we understand that, we can move mountains.
What about you?
Have you ever had to “sell” a difficult message?
How do you normally compose the communication of difficult messages?
Have you ever noticed how people can better follow you when you explain the purpose to them?