Sleuthing and the Golden Circle

Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle

I had the pleasure to present to a class of students working in or preparing to join the nonprofit sector.  A question was posed about how to understand an organization’s “why” if the nonprofit cannot articulate their belief.  After providing my best on the spot answer I thought more about how to decode an enterprise’s “why”.  Here are some strategies that have served me:

  • Most organizations have immense amounts of literature, online content, and stories about “what” they do.  They can tell you every program, service, and metric.  This is low hanging fruit and easy to slot into the “what” portion of the Golden Circle.
  • The sleuthing begins when you unpack the organization’s “how.”  Begin by asking what values are important to an organization when they select a program or service?  How do they deliver their services? What is the organization’s hallmark?  Why?  What people do they hire to join the team and why?  How does their Help Wanted sign read?  How are they uniquely positioned to fulfill their mission?  Somewhere in these questions one will begin to assemble the “how.”  Remember that “how” is not tangible, instead it is commitments to maximizing a cause’s purpose.
  • The “why” may appear a void but these shortcuts may help.  Ask why the cause was founded.  What problem or opportunity was the founder trying to impact and address?  Founders are amazingly coherent when articulating the purpose of an organization.  Ask the founding story or what the early years were like at the cause.  Consider a query about the organization’s current signature event/program?  You can even use the Seth Godin approach and ask if one were to describe the organization’s greatest super power, what would it be? Lastly, you can always ask the Chief Executive or most visionary employee why they chose to join the cause?  What do they believe that the organization amplifies?
The cause may not be ready to discuss its “why” but with some leading questions one should be able to assemble enough information to understand the enterprise’s purpose.

What question’s do you ask to get to “why”?

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