Great Culture Knows WHY

WhyIgnore Culture at Your Peril, Part 4 of 4

[su_dropcap style=”flat”]I[/su_dropcap]N THE first part of this series I explained why I’m passionate about convincing people that culture is as important as any other aspect of a successful business. Then I described 10 characteristics of great culture. Now that we’re at the last post, my message is this: great culture starts with the WHY. I know, I’m ignoring my own advice. Let’s just say I saved the best for last.

Passion lives in the WHY, and passion motivates people to be exceptional. Author Simon Sinek gave a great presentation at TEDxPugetSound in 2009. He says that too many organizations start with the more tangible things, like the WHAT (products or services) or the HOW (logistics, business models, etc.). You can watch the video at here.

But those who excel, those who defy expectations, start with the WHY. One example is Apple. There are other computer companies who have access to the same resources, but Apple continues to innovate in ways that others don’t. Apple doesn’t just lead markets, they create them. That’s because their business model puts the WHY at the core and then develops the HOW and WHAT out of the WHY.

WHY Do You Do It?

The WHY is not to make a profit. That’s a result, Sinek says. The WHY is deeper. Think about your own situation. WHY do you work where you do? I’m not asking why you became a recruiter or a .NET developer or a financial analyst. True, you probably chose your profession because of some passion. You didn’t discover the WHY after you’d gotten your degree, right?

But you can be any of those things at any company. WHY did you bring your passion to your current employer? Do they start with the WHY? Is their WHY aligned with yours? If so, I’ll bet dimes to dollars that you’re very happy with your job, and your employer is very happy with your performance.

Show Me the

For me it’s a lot of things, and money isn’t all that high on the list. More important are things like the fact that I’m having a blast. I don’t have to do it — I get to do it. Another reason: at Decision Toolbox (DT), I can give back to the community. In my life that’s not separate from work. At DT we don’t believe in work / life balance, we believe in life balance. It’s all integrated. For example, my work with organizations like Girls, Inc. and Working Wardrobes allows me to help people improve the quality of their lives, and it’s also a great way to network.

We shared Sinek’s WHY presentation at our last nationwide all-staff gathering, and then asked all our people to write down their WHYs. Not one of them wrote, “It pays the bills.” Here’s a sampling:

  • A Recruiter: “Love DT’s culture, flexibility and support.”
  • A Director: “I want to feel like I am part of something that makes a difference.”
  • Recruiter: “I’m in control.”
  • Media specialist: “It is very important for me to spend time with my children, and DT allows me the flexibility to attend football, basketball and other activities.”
  • Recruiter: “Recruiting with a conscience.”
  • Writer: “I get to partner with DT, not be an employee.”
  • Recruiter: “Single parent . . . DT changed our lives. I’m never leaving.”

If that last one didn’t move you, you probably should have an EKG. With that kind of passion — and the WHY at the core — DT has been thriving for 20 years, even through the ups and downs that caused others in our space to close their doors. I hope is your #1 takeaway is this: manage your P&L rationally, but manage your culture passionately.


Kim Shepherd
Kim Shepherd
AS CEO of Decision Toolbox, Kim Shepherd leads the company’s growth strategy, primarily through developing partnerships, alliances and as an active member of the Los Angeles and Orange County human resources community. A recognized thought leader by HR organizations nationwide including the Human Capital Institute, Kim is a regular speaker at national and regional events on various business models. Kim joined Decision Toolbox in 2000, and brought her unconventional approach to the company she had admired as a client. Today Decision Toolbox is 100% virtual, with more than 100 team members working remotely across the U.S. This company is a Certified Women’s Business Enterprise. This unique business model has played a key role in the company being awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility in 2009, 2011 and 2012. Decision Toolbox was also named one of the "Fastest Growing Private Companies" by the Orange County Business Journal in 2012. In addition, they have been named 3 years running to the INC 500/5000 List of Fastest Growing Private Companies and have been a 7-time recipient of the HRO Today’s Baker’s Dozen for Midmarket and Emerging Markets. Calling Kim unconventional is an understatement – her former endeavors include 10 years as a TV and Foreign Correspondent, a stint at Club Med and a near miss at a spot on the Olympic ski team. Kim is an active member of the Adaptive Business Leaders Executive Roundtable and the National Association for Women Business Owners (Orange County Chapter). She served on the Executive Board of Trustees for Girls Incorporated of Orange County and is also the Board Chair for Working Wardrobes. She is also a former member of Impact Giving. Kim is the recipient of the National Association of Women Business Owners (Orange County Chapter) 2013 Innovator of the Year Award, the 2014 Enterprising Women Magazine’s Enterprising Women of the Year, and the 2015 Family Matters Award from WomanSage.