Are you starting with WHY?

“Next year we’re going to introduce an enterprise-wide platform to manage employee identities, access and entitlements.”

Does this make you want to pay attention? Be honest.

No, it doesn’t.

What’s Missing?

A lot – and it’s boring – but most important: why are we doing this?

When crafting messages, project teams often focus exclusively on what’s changing: the thing that’s being built, bought or sold. The new app, the intranet that will be so easy to use, the new system that will make payroll a breeze.

When we rush to explain the magnificent features of the solution we’re building, we’re overlooking an important step: why do we need it in the first place?

Simon Sinek, author of the classic Start With Why, contends that people are more likely to buy WHY you are doing something more than what you’re actually doing.

Unfortunately, many change projects neglect this.

The imperative – or the why – is the first ingredient in a Shared Change Purpose. It’s always the first step in our People-Centred Implementation (PCI®) approach.

But people should already know why we’re doing this. Isn’t it obvious?

Research tells us that we have a strong desire to maintain the status quo. It gives us a sense of control and comfort, and when the status quo changes, we can react negatively. We prefer to avoid disruption and discomfort.

When we focus exclusively on the what – the thing we’re building, buying or selling – people may not be prepared for the inevitable challenges and setbacks along the way.

Whereas when we explain why change is important, we’re helping people understand why the disruption is necessary.

If we don’t spell things out for people, they probably won’t connect the dots themselves. And if it’s a change they don’t agree with – maybe they think the current system is fine – it’s unlikely they’ll get on board.

It makes change easier to digest

Sometimes, a strong imperative is more compelling than an attractive vision for the future.

Consider yourself: a vision of being fit and healthy might get you to the gym sporadically, but it’s only when you’re fed up with how you feel that you start to create new habits, making exercise and healthy eating a priority.

If you understand why things can’t stay the way they are, you might be prepared for some discomfort.

Is it too….negative?

Leaders might feel uncomfortable delivering an honest imperative. Should we admit that customer churn is high, or that engagement scores are low?

The term ‘burning platform’ has been used to describe the imperative to change. Personally, I’m not a fan as it suggests that the imperative is negative – something broken must be fixed, and the consequences of not taking action are dire. This is not always the case. A strong imperative can be linked to a great opportunity. 

What we want is: people accept that things cannot remain the way they are. The status quo is no longer viable.

In summary

In our experience, the imperative is frequently missed.

Organisations might say things such as “to meet our strategic objectives….” or “to become a retailer of the future…” – but is that meaningful outside of the boardroom?

If I’m sitting in a contact centre, is that going to make me pay attention?

Research tells us that if employees don’t know the reason for a change, it’s hard for them to get on board.

Start with why!

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