Do not adjust your computer screen—that’s not a typo in the headline. Your instinct may be to change that why to a what, but why is actually the right question for leaders to ask themselves about their business models. It’s this distinction between why and what that makes all the difference.
The essential questions leaders must ask themselves and challenge their teams with are all why questions: Why would a customer want to do business with us? Why would top talent want to come to work with us, and contribute their best to our efforts? Why would suppliers want to become our long-term strategic partners? Why would communities welcome our facilities? Why would institutional investors want to trust their money to us?
A what answer to any of these questions can disguise itself as a why: Customers choose us because we are the low-cost supplier. Talent is attracted to us because we offer a good salary. Suppliers had best stay in line or we’ll find others. Communities want the jobs. And investors will put their cash wherever they can get the best return.
How do you get the why right? One way is to challenge yourself to articulate how your company is going to change the world for the better. Not just increase revenues, but actually Change The World.
A second way to find the why is to begin with your values and work your way there. Almost every organization has a lofty statement of its values, but for too many firms, these values don’t actually guide daily operations. Ask yourself how each of your values is manifest for your various stakeholders. How can it be made more integral and more apparent in your products, services, and even your internal processes?
“Smart suppliers find ways to add value to their customers’ businesses beyond selling them things.”
The lessons are these: First, once you get the why right, the what will follow. Second, the what will change, but the why should transcend numerous strategic and tactical shifts. And, finally, the what is often easier to measure, but the why is more important to assess.
We do business in a turbulent world. Some firms, however, find a way to succeed amidst the tumult. They inspire and cultivate stakeholder loyalty. Look closely and you’ll see they do it by spending more time focusing on the why of their business than the what. Make sure you know why is right with your business model.
(An excerpt from an article by Eric J. McNulty). The full article: