Does “Why” Matter?

There is a significant amount of compelling research linking the performance of a team to the connection to their mission or “Why”.  Simon Sinek has been a champion of this notion telling us that the center of the Golden Circle (Why, How, What) defines why your company is in business, or more simply why you get up in the morning.  If you combine Mr. Sinek’s perspective on “Why”, with John Maxwell’s focus on intentionality, and infuse Shawn Achor’s views on happiness and gratitude, then you have a very powerful formula for creating engagement in the workplace.

Despite all of the research and reading I have done on the subject I come back to one inescapable truth, which is that most organizations or business units don’t have the mission or conviction necessary to inspire the type of connection that these authors say is attainable.  How can someone be intentional, grateful, or connected to a “Why” if your team simply doesn’t have one?  Where do you start to create one?

The message is simple, if you connect your team to the “Why” of your business then happiness and success follow.  I absolutely understand it, and have seen it in action.  I joined an organization several years ago that partnered with Children’s Miracle Network as their charity.  When I took over as General Manager I was given some background on that relationship and told to contribute at the site level in whatever way I could.  Honestly it was an afterthought in my day to day business.  It’s not that the charity wasn’t great, the mission wasn’t inspiring, or the company’s conviction wasn’t strong enough, it was simply that I didn’t feel connected.

A couple of years into my time with the organization they had a presentation from the Children’s Miracle Network team for all of the General Managers.  They told a story about an amazingly joyful, positive, grateful young man named Zion Harvey.  Zion contracted a disease at the age of 2 that cost him his hands and his feet.  He made such a connection with the team at the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital that they decided to try something never done before, a bilateral hand transplant on a child.  They were going to take two small donated hands and transplant them to Zion.  Pan forward about a year, and Zion was throwing out the first pitch at the Baltimore Oriel’s game.  My daughter was just born, so this hit me in a way I wasn’t prepared for.  I could visualize and connect with the story.  I took this message back to my team, and with the time we had left in the year we raised more money for the charity than all the previous years combined at the site.

Over the next three years the site kept growing their commitment to make an impact, and continued to up our contributions through small acts done almost daily.  The connection had been established, and more than just connecting to the charity, we connected to a spirit of service.  As a hospitality professional, connecting your team to the concept of service to others is the golden goose of all connections at work.  It did not ever cross my mind that by telling that story, and connecting the team to that charity, that it would galvanize a world class team that would go on to have record years and win a significant amount of awards.  The “Why” connection is real, and it makes an impact.

What happens if your organization, division, stand-alone shop doesn’t have a great mission to connect your team to?  Do you schedule a corporate retreat to hopefully catch lightening in a bottle?  Do a Google search for good charities?  Fake a connective idea, until one actually takes hold?  If you don’t have a “Why”, how do you find one?

I recently started a new role, and have struggled to figure out how to connect the team to a “Why” that matters to them.  When I have been successful in the past the message has met five criteria:

  1. It should be more Aspirational then Inspirational
  2. There should be a call to action
  3. Whatever you choose should create benefit for the individual as well as the group
  4. It can’t just be about work. It has to connect people to their personal lives.
  5. It should be simple.

I have spent hundreds of hours speaking to the team, learning about the business, and trying to connect them all somehow.  The one word I keep coming back to is “Better”.  As a leader I want to create a situation where each member of the team strives every day to simply be a bit better than we were yesterday.  We want to elevate the overall performance, social awareness, engagement of the team by growing daily.  We want to increase the skill level of the team to help provide them growth options by making them a bit better every day.  What if the “Why” is something as simple as the word “Better”.  I am sure this will morph and grow into an official mission statement at one point in time, but now it just needs to be a growth movement that connects the team, and creates an aspirational conviction to bettering the lives of their team, guests, and family.  If you don’t know where to start, then start by thinking at the most base level what you would genuinely like to accomplish.  If you can explain it to a few of your team members, and see them start to engage then, you are on the right track.

Connecting your team to the mission of your organization will create engagement, happiness, and success.  Start at the most base level, and start connecting.

Thank You,

Chris Cano


JLH Leadership Solutions


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