The power of "why" in the workplace

HR professionals need to step back from focusing on the "what", and consider the reasons and values for their people and actions

The power of "why" in the workplace
People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. That’s the premise behind British-American author and marketing consultant Simon Sinek’s best-selling book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.

Sinek believes it’s critical for employees to understand the "why" of the organization. Why did it start to begin with? What is the drive behind it? Why do the leaders in the organization do what they do? What drives them every day?

But as human resources professionals, we are often pre-occupied with the "what" of the organization. We attend meetings, work with team members and focus on results. But the real results come when we step back and look at our true purpose.

If the company’s "why" is clear and consistent, it’s easy for people with a similar drive and focus to be attracted to the organization and stay because they love their work. If the "why" isn’t consistent or clear, the opposite will happen. When people believe in the dream, they work for the passion, not the pay cheque.

Sinek’s Start with Why philosophy works in organizations as small as one person to multi-million dollar companies with global operations.

At GoodLife Fitness, our "why" is to give every Canadian the opportunity to live a fit and healthy good life. We exist to help people embrace physical activity and enjoy healthier, longer lives.  

When someone in our accounting department, a group fitness instructor, or a member of the club maintenance team comes to work in the morning, we want them to think of this larger purpose. Everything we do at GoodLife Fitness contributes to a fitter, healthier Canada.

This drives engagement, accountability and productivity. Without it, people are only adding numbers, teaching a class, or fixing equipment. With it, they are making a difference and impacting people’s lives for the better.

GoodLife founder and CEO David ‘Patch’ Patchell-Evans has always been clear about his "why". He started his first gym based on his own personal experiences with the healing potential of exercise.

As the business grew, we looked for ways to communicate the "why", and convey the passion that drives it to more than 14,000 GoodLife associates in 10 Canadian provinces.

Patch developed a training session for new associates called ‘Super Success’, and has single-handedly delivered this three-hour course to GoodLife team members across Canada for the past 36 years. The goal is for every new associate to attend a Super Success session within their first three months to learn Patch’s "why", the company’s "why", and help associates connect with the GoodLife Fitness purpose.

Within the last year, Patch enlisted GoodLife’s senior leadership team to deliver Super Success sessions across Canada to further strengthen and support corporate culture and performance.

GoodLife Fitness uses performance appraisals and goal-setting as opportunities to ask each associate to elaborate on their own personal "why" and how it connects with what they do at work every day. By connecting day-to-day responsibilities to a larger purpose, associates see the significance of their work, they stay focused on a common goal, and their energy translates into a positive, high-energy club experience.

Here are a few GoodLife associates describing their own personal "why":

“The most rewarding part is helping people achieve what they think they could. My greatest accomplishment as a personal trainer is when you see the positive effects of your client becoming fitter and healthier trickle down to their families.” - Nsuani, personal trainer

“I’m more excited to see my clients achieving their goals than I would be for myself. Seeing the small changes that happen because of fitness is really powerful.” - Darwin, personal rrainer

“I give people hope and inspiration that no matter what happens in your life, you can persevere with health and fitness.” - Laureine, associate information systems specialist

As GoodLife Fitness continues to grow, maintaining connection to a larger purpose is more important than ever. When things get busy, it’s easy to focus on the everyday tasks and forget why we’re doing what we do. The leadership team meets regularly with each other and teams across Canada to review our "why" and reframe it in the evolving context of our associates, input from members, the fitness industry and Canadian demographics.

Our goal is to spread the GoodLife "why" to all levels of the company and to measure its impact and reach. We want Canadians to be healthier, to enjoy fitness, to live an active life. This mantra means many things to different people, but it’s a vision that can change lives and it remains at the core of our business.

For Canadian organizations, this is a great reminder. No matter how big you get, step back and revisit "why" you do what you do. Communicate that "why" and empower employees to pursue it, and success will follow.

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