Why does your business exist?

Written by
Dean Lamble

10 Jan 2017

10 Jan 2017 • by Dean Lamble

The what, the how but never the why...

People are often very good at describing ‘what’ they do or even ‘how’ they do it, but not ‘why’ they do it.

Try it; ask yourself ‘why’ does your company exist? 

Your ‘why’ goes by many names - your purpose, your mission, your belief.

When you know your 'why' what is the next step?

Once you know your ‘why’, it can accelerate your planning around the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. Day-to-day direction needs context, and knowing your ‘why’ can give you a greater range of credible, achievable, successful ‘whats and hows’, because they all come from the same ‘why’.

There’s a great three minute video by comedian Michael Jr that illustrates the power of knowing your ‘why’ very elegantly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_y5XpLUla0

Perhaps a better known explanation of the importance of knowing your why comes from Simon Sinek, who gave a popular TED Talk in 2009 introducing what he called ‘the golden circle’: 

Leaders should focus on the why

His theory is one that resonated with us at SunLife: the reason some leaders and organisations are able to inspire better than others is greatly affected by the way in which they approach the circle. Outside in? Or inside out? Most businesses, he says, start from the outside and work in, concentrating on ‘what’ we do and ‘how’ we do it, before we consider (if ever) ‘why’.

Sinek uses Apple as example of a company that has enjoyed huge commercial success partly because, he postulates, everyone – staff and customers – know their ‘why’. Why does Apple exist: to challenge the status quo by making beautifully designed, simple to use, user-friendly products. And if they start with that first, the ‘what’ they do can be more flexible – they can successfully market computers, phones, music, watches, software, TV – and maybe in the future, cars. Compare Apple to a computer company where you only really understand ‘what’ they do – make computers – and see how such a company will struggle to find credibility in new markets.

At SunLife, ‘starting with why’ has been integral to the relaunch of our business – to clearly define why we exist for our customers, what we are going to do to deliver our ‘why’ and most importantly, how as people we are going to deliver it. The ‘why’ is as much about customers identifying what we stand for as it is for our people to believe in our purpose. 

Align your business with why

Rather than thinking of ourselves as ‘SunLife – we sell simple, great value protection products’, we start with why we exist: to help create a world where financial services are easy and engaging. This ‘higher purpose’ runs through everything we do at Sunlife and has made our ‘what’ and our ‘how’ more relevant.

Strong leadership focuses first on the ‘why’ and how to align the business behind it – from long range strategy through to day to day target setting – but most importantly ensuring all the people in your business understand and believe in the ‘why’ – and for all your people to believe, the belief has to start with you as the leader of the business.