First Why, Second How, Third What

If you’ve not done so already, consider listening to Simon Sinek’s TED talk, the “Golden Circle”. He describes a basic mistake nearly all organizations and people in business make.

When communicating with potential customers or clients, we almost invariably start with the What: “Here’s what we do — the products we make and services we offer.” Next, we go to the How: “Here’s how we do it, how our products and services outshine our competitors.’” Then we end with the Why: “So that’s why you should buy from us.”

Drawing on Apple, the Wright Brothers and Martin Luther King, Jr., Sinek says we should change the order. Instead of “What,” begin with “Why” — the purpose or belief that motivates you to do what you do. Next go to “How” — how you serve that purpose or belief. Last comes “What” — the products or services you provide.

Sinek explains, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. The goal is not just to sell to people who need what you have. The goal is to sell to people who believe what you believe.” He adds that the What “simply serves as the proof of what you believe.”

After watching the video, I realized I’ve followed the path Sinek counsels against. Typically, I’ve begun by explaining what I do — organization consulting, executive coaching, leadership development, team building, conflict resolution, etc. Then I say how these services help. I conclude with why I should be hired.

I’ve since reversed the order. Here’s my approach now:

  • The Why — “I believe that in every organization, there’s an enormous amount of untapped human potential; my passion is to help organizations tap it.”
  • The How — “I work ‘inside-out,’ not ‘outside-in.’ Outside-in means presenting you with a menu of services, programs and materials. You order from the menu, proceed to checkout, pay your money, I deliver what you ordered — and hope something sticks. Inside-out means I start with a question such as: ‘What’s your assessment of the untapped human potential in your organization?’ If your answer sparks a conversation, we explore your needs, objectives, challenges and opportunities.”
  • The What — “The Why/How conversation reveals the desire for and commitment to change. It enables me to critically assess whether I can help, and what services, programs or materials could align with and support that change.”

Benefits of Why-How-What

Clarifying Your Value Proposition. Sinek’s approach requires you to zero in on your value proposition. Consider this Venn diagram.

Venn diagram

The passion circle is your “Why” — what you truly care about and motivates you. The skill circle is your “How” — what you’re extraordinarily good at, as would be attested by others. The need circle is your “What” — the products or services you offer that meet others’ needs. The center space is your value proposition. It’s where your time and effort should be focused. Why-How-What captures that space.

Changing the Client/Customer Dynamic. When you move from sales pitch to conversation, you become less of a product seller or service provider and more of a partner or collaborator. The paradigm shifts from short-term sale to long-term relationship. Sometimes this may mean passing up a business opportunity in favor of something else that’s a better fit for the client’s specific need. When you actually provide the product or service, inside-out increases the likelihood of success, including that the client or customer will feel validated in selecting you.

Economic Return. While it is difficult to put a precise economic return on this approach, my experience has been very positive. For example, in a recent conversation with a senior executive, after we talked about Why and How, she brought up What before I did. My responses to her questions led to an executive coaching/leadership development engagement.

Becoming a Better Conversationalist. Why-How-What, including inside-out vs. outside-in, makes you a better conversationalist. Your ability to listen, to understand and be understood, dramatically improves. Perhaps Henry David Thoreau said it best, “The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.”

What’s Your Why-How-What Statement?

If this post inspires a “me too” moment, watch Sinek’s video and compose your own Why-How-What statement. If you’d like feedback, send it to me. In future posts, I plan to include others’ Why-How-What statements as well as the experiences they’ve had using them.

Give it a try; you won’t regret it.