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Great culture knows WHY

By Kim Shepherd, Chief Executive Officer
And Tom Brennan, Senior Writer


Ignore Culture at Your Peril, Part 4 of 4

In the first part of this series I explained why I’m passionate about convincing people that culture is as important as any other aspect of a successful business. Then I described 10 characteristics of great culture. Now that we’re at the last post, my message is this: great culture starts with the WHY. I know, I’m ignoring my own advice. Let’s just say I saved the best for last.

Passion lives in the WHY, and passion motivates people to be exceptional. Author Simon Sinek gave a great presentation at TEDxPugetSound in 2009. He says that too many organizations start with the more tangible things, like the WHAT (products or services) or the HOW (logistics, business models, etc.). You can watch the video at here.

But those who excel, those who defy expectations, start with the WHY. One example is Apple. There are other computer companies who have access to the same resources, but Apple continues to innovate in ways that others don’t. Apple doesn’t just lead markets, they create them. That’s because their business model puts the WHY at the core and then develops the HOW and WHAT out of the WHY.

WHY Do You Do It?

The WHY is not to make a profit. That’s a result, Sinek says. The WHY is deeper. Think about your own situation. WHY do you work where you do? I’m not asking why you became a recruiter or a .NET developer or a financial analyst. True, you probably chose your profession because of some passion. You didn’t discover the WHY after you’d gotten your degree, right?

But you can be any of those things at any company. WHY did you bring your passion to your current employer? Do they start with the WHY? Is their WHY aligned with yours? If so, I’ll bet dimes to dollars that you’re very happy with your job, and your employer is very happy with your performance.

Show Me the

For me it’s a lot of things, and money isn’t all that high on the list. More important are things like the fact that I’m having a blast. I don’t have to do it — I get to do it. Another reason: at Decision Toolbox (DT), I can give back to the community. In my life that’s not separate from work. At DT we don’t believe in work / life balance, we believe in life balance. It’s all integrated. For example, my work with organizations like Girls, Inc. and Working Wardrobes allows me to help people improve the quality of their lives, and it’s also a great way to network.

We shared Sinek’s WHY presentation at our last nationwide all-staff gathering, and then asked all our people to write down their WHYs. Not one of them wrote, “It pays the bills.” Here’s a sampling:

  • A Recruiter: “Love DT’s culture, flexibility and support.”
  • A Director: “I want to feel like I am part of something that makes a difference.”
  • Recruiter: “I’m in control.”
  • Media specialist: “It is very important for me to spend time with my children, and DT allows me the flexibility to attend football, basketball and other activities.”
  • Recruiter: “Recruiting with a conscience.”
  • Writer: “I get to partner with DT, not be an employee.”
  • Recruiter: “Single parent . . . DT changed our lives. I’m never leaving.”

If that last one didn’t move you, you probably should have an EKG. With that kind of passion — and the WHY at the core — DT has been thriving for 20 years, even through the ups and downs that caused others in our space to close their doors. I hope is your #1 takeaway is this: manage your P&L rationally, but manage your culture passionately.

Follow Kim on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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One Response to “Great culture knows WHY”

  1. May 13, 2013 at 6:53 am, Five More Characteristics of Great Culture | Blog | Decision Toolbox said:

    […] that squishiness is starting to look a lot more substantial. In the final post of this series, coming up, I’ll delve deeper into the WHY: why people work for your company, […]


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