Article: "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it"

Strategic HR

"People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it"

Leaders are more effective when they begin with asking 'Why'.
"People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it"

The field of Human Resources typically demands understanding our people. It also demands that our people feel invested in what we do while we also empathize with them. To be able to do so, one must also understand oneself well. All of this can be done effectively with the Golden Circle.

In his TED Talk, ‘How Great Leaders Inspire Action’, Simon Sinek talks of how it is imperative to start with ‘why’. He talks about how certain leaders (for example, Martin Luther King, Apple and the Wright Brothers) are more effective because they begin with asking and communicating why they do what they do. They then go along to the how and finally the what. Initially, this seems like a rather simple way to do things, and not very different from doing it the other way. And many of us don’t know why we are doing what we are doing. This sounds ridiculous and also not something one needs to pay too much attention to – till Sinek talks about the difference that this form of thinking could be creating. 

Beginning with the why, says Sinek, is scientifically correct. He refers to an analogy of the brain and speaks about how the why (the centre of the golden circle) corresponds to that part of the brain that is responsible for all our emotions - the part that drives behaviour. While the outer part of the circle (the ‘what’ level) corresponds to our neo-cortex, i.e. the part of our brain responsible for rational and analytical thought and behaviour. 

Now imagine that we correspond this with a new project that we want to rollout for people within our organization. Typically anything that HR wants to launch requires an investment of time and thought from all your organization’s employees - albeit at different levels. For instance, if you are rolling out an upskilling program for your line managers, you need time from the department heads so that you know that the program includes their perspective and fits their requirements. You also require the line managers to be invested in what you are doing, given that they will be the ones seeing the results of the program within themselves and in their jobs. You also need their team members to be invested, as they will be managed by these line managers and will tell you all about its effectiveness.  Your program is unlikely to excel unless you have a buy-in from all these stakeholders. 

It is here that the Golden Circle can be most beneficial. It is your opportunity to be Apple when there are so many different priorities that are taking up their time. It makes most sense to your team members to invest time in what you are asking of them when they are convinced by a really strong reason - one that drives behaviour. In an effort to demonstrate the same example as mentioned above, here are two ways you could go about it. One way is to declare to all stakeholders that you will be conducting a brilliant upskilling training sessions for all your line managers that they must attend. This is how it sounds when you begin with the what.

Analogous to Sinek’s example, you began by saying you produce great laptops and so they should be bought. The other way is to express to your line managers and all stakeholders that you have realized how crucial the role of the line manager is in the organization reaching its goals. You go on to tell them the impact that the line manager has had so far and the potential of the impact that you see them having in the near future. You have heard them out and you have created a customized plan that will help them reach their maximum potential in a set number of months - and you have done this in collaboration with them. It is obvious that the latter method will make your program much more successful. 

It is a comparatively higher investment of time, energy and emotions. However, the impact and buy-in that it creates is not comparable anymore. Given that we need people to be convinced of what we are implementing as HR professionals, it’s best to strive to be the Apple of the HR industry!

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Topics: Strategic HR, Skilling

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