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WHY? The question in three stages

When you start a project, whatever its size, do you take the time to ask yourself “why”? Or are you already on to the “who”, “when” and “how”?

We've all been there. You have such a desire to take action that you forget to take the time to ask yourself “why”. Because, let's face it, it seems to slow you down when you are anxious to define how you will change, what you will change, and when.

By starting too quickly, though, you deprive yourself of an important reference point that will serve you well for the remainder of the project. As a result, players head off in all directions and enthusiasm quickly wears thin, or you remain stuck at the starting line.

To make it all the way to the finish line, don’t just take the time to ask yourself “why”. It’s important to ask it in three different ways, in a particular order.

Why #1: The why that means “for what reason”

This is the motive behind the initial move, the one that leads you to open the door to a new place. It will be easier to move forward, though, if you fully understanding your original motive. To achieve that, you need to face your current situation and, above all, identify the reasons it can no longer exist. Embrace your reality in all its beauty and ugliness. Without this examination of your current situation, you will have difficulty defining your path forward later.

This is the “why” that demands a pause to honour what is beautiful in what we are leaving behind. It’s the why that celebrates what has been and bids it goodbye. No matter what occurred during this chapter, it was necessary. You’ve learned something, which you will perhaps bring forward to the next stage.

Why #2: The why that inspires

This is the question that appeals to the emotions and injects meaning. It’s the why Simon Sinek refers to in “Start with why”. To get to this “why”, you must dare to look in the mirror with authenticity and accept what you see, in its entirety. It’s the why that is closest to our values, to our essence. It’s the vision.

For a company to have a strong vision, its leaders must dare to return to the original dream, the initial vision, and, if necessary, to question it. A project without a strong vision will only be a change, never a transformation. This is the most difficult “why” to define in words, but when you reach it, you’ll know you’re in the right place. To get there, you must dare to get out of your comfort zone, destabilize yourself, put yourself in a vulnerable position, and think differently.

A vision needs time and distance to come into focus, which is why it is often emerges most clearly in a team retreat, far from the daily routine.

Why #3: The why that points which direction to take

This why is the “what for?”. It forces you to think about what you want to move towards. To answer it, you must give the vision a concrete form, starting by imagining your situation in the distant future, then moving back towards where you are now, towards goals that are achievable in three or five years. From this target will come concrete actions, which will need to be defined in an action plan to get you moving forward, one action at a time.

This “why” is essential and important, but tends to be forgotten once the vision is defined. If the target to be achieved is not clearly defined in concrete terms, however, the solutions implemented will be flawed, and will eventually have to be rethought.

This is the “why” of aims and objectives, the one against which success will be measured, the one that will be used to set priorities along the way.

The next time you start a small project or a large transformation initiative, take the time to ask yourself why. By drawing on the lessons of the past, knowing who you are and having a clear goal ahead of you, you will make it much easier to tackle the "how", "when" and "who" questions you have to answer.

Sophie Legendre
Senior Director

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