What is the only reason why some ideas work, and others don’t?
I think the answer is simple: Belief.
Not agreement, or consensus, or endorsement.
Yes, there are other factors (what are they? Can you come up with ten?), but I think this single factor — belief — eclipses all others.
Belief is what happens when someone else weaves some part of you into their own fabric. They change themselves in some way as a result of you.
Belief doesn’t drive someone to complete a task. It drives someone to reframe how they complete every task, every day.
Do you believe in your company?
Does your team believe in you?
What is belief? Is it important? Why?
Let’s think about belief and make some observations.
Observation 1] Getting people to *believe* in things is hard.
Think about some common beliefs. If someone believes in a religion, or a management philosophy, or that college is important, or that dogs are better than cats…it is possible to get them to change their belief, but it’s hard.
That’s probably good, because I think beliefs are very durable and valuable things.
Why are beliefs important and valuable? Because they give you a framework for how you interact with the world. They help you process information and make decisions. If you changed them all the time, you’d be confused all the time. You’d lack focus, waste time, analyze endlessly, and not progress.
If you believe college is important: you’ll study hard and do things that will look good on a college application.
If you don’t think college is important: you’ll do things over that same period of time with no regard to a college education…instead, you’ll do things in service of whatever else you believe (a trade, or learning to code without college, etc).
Both beliefs can provide excellent paths forward. If you flip-flopped between “college” and “no college” every 6 months, you’d have no focus. You wouldn’t accumulate meaningful experience or qualifications. You’d have no path forward.
So, that’s one definition of belief: A system of values that clarify your path forward. Which leads me to…
Observation 2] Beliefs provide a justification for making a choice. It’s WHY you do something.
Belief = passion. Passion is what drives action. This is true in your personal life. It’s why people run marathons. It’s why people go to comic-con. It’s why some people would rather be homeless than give up their dream of being a musician, or actor, or professional rock climber.
Why would it be any different in a business?
The answer is that it’s not.
So if you want someone to change what they’re doing, they msut become passionate about the new thing. They must understand why.
Observation 3] Just as people have beliefs, so do companies.
A company’s beliefs are also known as “mission statements” or “visions” or “strategy” or “guiding principles” or “leadership principles” or “management framework” (I have literally heard it called all these things, I’m sure there’s 100 more names, but they’re all the same thing).
Google’s most famous core belief is “don’t be evil.” Amazon has codified their beliefs in its “leadership principles.”
Of course, a company has beliefs whether it states them or not. Every decision a company makes is an indication of its beliefs. If a company always promotes from within, it believes in developing leadership internally. If the company states that it’s customer-centric but always makes decisions based on stock price or shareholders, it’s clear what the true belief is.
If a company’s leadership changed what they believe in (also known as mission and strategy) all the time, customers and employees would be confused and the business would suffer. In fact, it might die.
So there it is:
- Getting people to believe things is hard.
- Beliefs provide the justification for choices.
- Just as people have beliefs, so do companies.
Therefore: If you want to change how your company behaves, you have two options. (1) Link your change directly to what the company believes, or (2) change what your company believes.
If you want to change WHAT people are doing (or HOW they’re doing it), you have to change WHY they’re doing it.
That’s all. No big deal.
So how the **** do you do that?
Forget about what change you want to make, or how you’re going to get it done. No one cares. Yet.
How do you make them care? I use a tool I call a “Value Prop Chain.” It has two links. (It is a short chain)
Here it is:
Step 1) You tell them why you want to change. Not what. Not how. Why. This is link #1.
Step 2) You tell them specifically why the change will make their lives better, or easier, or remove pain, or help them make more money. In other words: to get someone to believe in something, you translate why YOU want the change into why THEY want the change. Either they will get something awesome, or avoid something painful, or — and this is when you really start to cook with gas — BOTH of those. This is link #2.
It really is that simple.
Not convinced? Let’s go through two quick examples. (Can you come up with 5 more?)
EXAMPLE 1] You want to roll out a new data collection and reporting system for projects throughout the whole company. (this one is very recent for me)
- For Management: They get something awesome. You will have data where before there was none >>> which will give you confidence you’re making the best decisions >>> which means you will invest in the best projects >>> which make more money for the company AND will remove pain because you will be informed whenever corporate (or anyone) “quizzes” you on project status.
- For Project Teams: They avoid something painful. You will have a single place to report data >>> which will remove pain of having to report the same data in multiple places to multiple people in multiple formats at multiple time points.
EXAMPLE 2] You want to deploy an application that’s currently installed on-premise, and transition it to the cloud.
- For Management: They will get something awesome. You will have more capability and a lower cost >>> which will allow us to make more money by spending less money on infrastructure and more time on using applications, instead of managing them.
- For End Users: They avoid something painful. You will get functionality updates faster and automatically as part of a service >>> which will remove the pain of having to engage IT for updates
Note: once you’ve got people caring about WHY, you had better be able to prove to them you can deliver it. That’s when you can focus on HOW and WHAT (also known as your change plan).
So that’s the fastest way to create change. Do not focus on what or how. One minute spent strengthening your “why” is worth a thousand minutes spend answering anything else (at least at the outset).
Still not convinced?
This idea of focusing on WHY before HOW and WHAT is very powerful…and it’s also not my idea. The most successful social leaders and companies in the history of the world have used this idea.
In fact: if you’re really good at answering “why,” you can forget the thing I said a few sentences ago. When people become passionate about WHY, you can forget about WHAT and HOW. Your team will figure it out for you.
Whole Foods was able to define an entire category of food retailing because they focused on why: “helping support the health, well-being, and healing of both people.”
Starbucks redefined coffee, but their mission statement barely mentions coffee. “We are performance-driven, through the lens of humanity.”
The most powerful and successful social movements in history — the good ones and the bad ones — habitat for humanity, terrorism, civil rights, the american revolution, women’s rights and child labor laws…they all relied on “why” at their core, and let their agents figure out the rest.
To create any meaningful change, you cannot personally do everything. You have 40 (or maybe 60) work hours in the week. You cannot scale beyond that.
But your idea can scale. If people believe in why they’re doing something, they will find a way to get it done.
If you want to create change, you have to be the one than can provide the answer to the most important question anyone will ever ask you: Why?
…what’s your answer?