“Start with Why” to Build an Inspired Team

Simon Sinek has a theory on what makes companies great – “Start with Why.” And 26 million views of his TEDTalk video, titled How Great Leaders Inspire Action, suggests that he has something interesting to say.

In a nutshell, Sinek’s theory is “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” For example, Apple is known for their design ethic – for thinking different – more than the products they make. They’re not a PC company, or a phone company, or a music seller. They’re an organization that designs products that people love to use. And many people will “invest” in the latest Apple phone or tablet without even comparing to similar products. They just believe that it’s the right product for them.

Southwest may be an airline, but they’re not just any airline – they love their customers (the ticker symbol is LUV), and they make flying fun and easy. A large number of loyal flyers will book a Southwest ticket without a second thought, just because they believe in the company.

Now what if we applied that thought process to building your team? When we hire people, we spend a lot of money placing ads explaining WHAT the person will be required to do. But how much space do we give to describe WHY we want them to do it. And what do we focus on during the interview – skills or character?

If our guiding principles are truly core to the company culture, does our process ensure that we hire people who will live those values? How do we attract the right type of candidate, and how do we make sure they thrive in the interview process?

In Sinek’s book “Start with Why,” he shares the job posting for Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated voyage to the South Pole:

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and Recognition in case of success.”

That’s pretty clear. Only those in search of an adventure would apply. Someone looking for a paycheck and an easy life will move on to the next opportunity. So when Shackleton assembled his team, he knew that everyone was there for the same purpose, and with the same dedication to the cause.

Now take a look at your most recent job posting. My guess is that it has a preamble that uses words like “market-leader,” and “world-class.” It probably closes with a promise of “competitive vacation policy, health benefits and 401(k).” And sandwiched between these two sections is a dry description of responsibilities and requirements. Hey, we all do it. I’m guilty too.

Before you draft your next posting, pause and read your mission, vision and value statements. Reflect on the company culture, the character traits you’re looking for, and what a candidate could aspire to achieve in your organization. Then mold those into an enticing, energetic invitation to your potential recruits.

When interviewing, focus in on the character and the personality of the candidate. Ask questions that give you an understanding of how they approach challenges, and how they interact with, and inspire, their peers. The Corner Office column in the New York Times is a great resource for different approaches to interview questions. Here’s an excerpt from their interview with Drew Houston, CEO of Dropbox.

“I’m drawn to people who really love their craft, and treat it like a craft, and are always trying to be better and are obsessed with what separates great from good. And so I’ll ask a lot about those things. Like who is the best in the world at what you do, and who are your influences?”

Take this path, and you’re much more likely to hire a candidate who is driven to move the company or project in the direction it needs to go. Which means you’ll be building a stronger and more committed team, and significantly increasing your odds of success.

As Herb Kelleher, co-founder of Southwest Airlines said “You don’t hire for skills, You hire for attitude.”

Do you?

[Note: This article was originally published on the Next Level Performance website]

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