As a lecturer at universities, TED talks are a powerful tool to introduce and expand the learning of students. Admittedly, I think that I sometimes get more out of the talks than my students! My approach has been to select a theme for the daily lesson plan; I have some theory to share, an activity, and like to go outside of the classroom to give students something else to think about. For my leadership course, we were working with the topic of “motivation”. CEO’s and leadership are expected to lead and motivate both internally as well as externally. Think of the face of an organization you follow. Nike has Phil Knight. Adidas has Adolf Dassler. Microsoft has Bill Gates. Apple had Steve Jobs. If you compare the companies, they are basically doing the same what and how. What separates organizations is the why; why we are in business and what motivates those who work for or support the business. Enter Simon Sinek.
In his pointed TED talk, Mr. Sinek uses a flip chart to draw circles illustrating the difference between the what-how-why of organizations helping us to understand that successful organizations focus on the why. The why is what motivates employees and customers, and is at the center of the flip chart diagram. For example: what Nike and Adidas do is make clothes and shoes. How they do it is by being innovative in the performance wear market. But why do they do it? Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks, very clearly states the why in the mission statement: to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time. Doesn’t say anything about brewing coffee or serving up a Frappuccino. What Apple and Microsoft do are make computers and software. How they do it is by hiring the best and creating devices and programs that consumers want. Why do they do it? Why do we choose an iPhone over an Android? Apple’s motto is “think different”. Somehow this transcends to standing in line for 8 hours to be the first to get the latest iPhone or partaking in an interactive Apple store where techs far outnumber any sales person.
Why are your employees motivated to show up each day at your business? You can probably easily answer the what: data process, make sales to customers, or assemble widgets and collect a paycheck. And the how of doing it: with the latest software, through presentations and with automated equipment. But why do they do it? If you can’t answer this, it might be time to consider what motivates your employees, your customers and your business partners. If you have high turnover or lower than projected profits, are not seeing the growth you expect, or don’t have the type of collaborative partnerships you envisioned, this is a strong clue that you do not know the why of your business and if you don’t know, nobody else does either.
How do we appreciate the generation that we have to rely on to build and operate our businesses? A generation that has always had a computer (also known as an appendage), was raised by "helicopter" parents, and will surpass the Baby Boomers in size. We need each other so how do we have the important conversations to help us all be successful?
First, what are the needs? Do you need employees to be on time and work certain hours or do you just need to make sure the work gets done? Do your employees need to have a cell phone on the table during a meeting or does the culture imply that this behavior is okay? In order to understand mutual needs, maybe we need to stop making assumptions.
Second, what kind of leadership do you provide? Are you accessible? Do you provide feedback regularly? If you are a Gen-X'er, you want to be left alone and don't need constant feedback. The children that were raised by the Gen-X'ers do because guess what, that is the world in which they were raised. So adapt your leadership style to motivate your employees.
Conversations of curiosity with all employees will help to better build understanding and bridge what seems to be a vast divide. And if the conversation feels too difficult, there are resources to support your goal.
Sunny E. Sassaman Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution Consultant