Why, How, and What

I recently read Start with Why by Simon Sinek (review here). His major concept of “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” really struck home as an advertising and brand-centric mind. But as I was reading I thought through so much more.

One of the ideas I am still chewing on is the relationship of the WHY, HOW, and WHAT in organizational structure.

Sinek suggests that the CEO is the responsible for the WHY in the organization. He/She is responsible for clearly communicating and reminding those who work under him/her of the WHY the company is doing what it is doing. If they are not effectively casting vision, clarifying the wins, and reminding everyone of WHY then everyone else in the organization can lose sight of the WHY and it becomes fuzzy.

This job makes sense to me. Why? Because most CEOs are dreamers. They are people who have a huge picture in their head and want to connect people to make that picture a reality. They do not have all the tools necessary to make it happen, otherwise they wouldn’t need a team and could do it on their own.

But they do need a team. They need a team that will help think through the HOW.

This is the first line of management. In some companies the HOW is made up of other “C-level” management while in others these are mid-level managers. Regardless of how the structure looks, the HOW is responsible for translating the vision into practical tasks to accomplish the vision of the WHY.

This means creating the systems and processes for the WHAT to do their jobs so the company continues to function like the well-oiled machine it should be. The WHAT are most employees at companies. They are responsible for the day-to-day tasks, execute the plan, and move the company forward.

Everyone has a role. Everyone is part of the process. Everyone can’t be the WHY otherwise nothing would get done. Everyone can’t be the WHAT otherwise the vision and direction would get lost.

The key is learning your role, and here’s what I’ve learned:

I’m not a WHY.

I’m too much of a realist to be able to think up new visions and dreams to drive a company. While I have the creative capacity, I lack the imagination and optimism that is usually associated with good WHYs.

I’m a HOW.

I think in systems, processes, and strategies. I get excited about planning, trying to find all the pieces to the puzzle and assembling them; it energizes me.

But, right now I’m a WHAT.

My position requires me to do daily tasks to help move the ball down the field for the rest of the company. I don’t have the influence to leverage my voice in the decision-making process right now. I am more task-oriented in my job than planning-oriented. I do more of the practical rather than strategic.

And that is okay.

Being a WHAT is not a problem; it is actually a strategic advantage. The more you can familiarize yourself with the inter-workings of the majority of a company or process, the more informed you will be once you become the HOW. Too many management-level bosses run into issues because they have lost touch with the people who routinely carry out the decisions they make. They can lose sight that each choice has a repercussion and effect on someone directly.

And that is a problem. One I hope to avoid making as much as possible.

Which is why I am perfectly content being a WHAT until the opportunity to be a HOW serving under a WHY presents itself.

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