Start with Why – in the training business what motivates is the purpose, not the approach!

Ten years ago, Simon Sinek used a simple model to illustrate why some companies are much more successful than others: TED Talk Simon Sinek

The model is “Start with the Why”. But neither in the economy nor in staff development and training the message seems to have arrived that people are inspired mainly by the purpose of an action. The “What” and the “How” may reinforce an opinion. But as a rule, they do not inspire action!

The Why – It’s all about the output, not the input!

To start with the Why means to ask oneself what the desired results are – and what effect they should have. This purpose is what motivates people to do something – or leave it!

Learning and development usually means practicing, changing or even refraining from specific behaviors or actions. This costs energy and therefore only happens if everyone can formulate a strong motivation for her or himself.

It is not enough to say: “We have to communicate more effectively as a team”. If the purpose in the larger context is not clear (f. i. company, business unit, department), nor the personal benefit or gain (f. i. easier processes, better working atmosphere), nobody is motivated to apply energy to it.

Articulating a clear Why takes time

Especially when we collectively demand new or different behavior from others, the clear articulation of the Why is essential. If we decide personally and just for ourselves to change a certain behavior, diffuse, but strongly emotional motives may suffice. But this kind of emotional activation initially is absent when the reasons come from outside. That is why it is important to invest enough time for this: emotional engagement gradually arises as the relevance to oneself becomes clearer.

The process begins when the purpose of a demand for behavior change – and the benefit of following it – becomes clear. This is where the “chain of effects” helps: Input > Result > Effect. Two examples:

Example Input Result Effect (Output)
Christopher Columbus 3 ships sail west

a) Sea route to India discovered, thus

b) Access to gold & cheaper trading, thereby

c) The King’s treasure chest is replenished

a) The Spanish economy is strengthened, thereby

b) Expansion of international power & prosperity

Team Development

Top Management Team

6-month development process with workshops, agreements, coaching and regular meetings

a) Strengthening of personal relationships, thus

b) subliminal conflicts are resolved, thereby

c) important decisions are being taken

a) Clarity about strategic direction created, thereby

b) Congruent messages to different business, thereby

(c) increased productivity/smoother work flow

Adapted from: M. Körner “Leading Business Projects to Success”, 2007

As you can see, the results and effects have connections to the next higher level – hence the name “chain of effects”.

The chain of effects as a planning tool

The training provider and the customer – jointly! – ask for the Why: What are the desired effects? It is important to repeat this question until reaching the highest level. This, because it is usually the strategic level and demonstrates the importance of the development program as a strategic initiative.

Now they “work back” to the necessary or expected results. These are also the goals for the development process. They often lie at the relationship or behavioral level and manifest themselves on the operational level.

Here, too, it is important to ask the what is required or expected until the direct as well as the indirect results are well described. This also helps clarifying the deliverables of the training, the stakeholders and likely obstacles. These in turn are important signposts for the planning of the program itself.

The What and the How are the simplest parts of the whole process!

Defining the input, i.e. which elements, activities and milestones are important, who needs to be involved, informed or consulted, as well as available time frames and resources, is now almost a natural process. It is based on the previously defined framework of effects and results.

Now, of course, it is essential to offer the highest quality and adapt the individual elements and activities precisely to the needs and circumstances of the participants and the customer. It is of no use to articulate a compelling purpose and clear results if nobody engages in the development process due to mediocre execution!

If you have questions or are interested, simply contact us:, Munich: 089 388 99 749, Cologne 0221 169 18467