Tool: How to create your organizations WHY


Our mission and purpose is … what?

The past few weeks I’ve both seen some presentations on how to find your organizations WHY and purpose, and I have been part of such process myself in an organization.

Here’s one of my tools for creating your organizations WHY, based on +50 workshops in organizations and teams over the last years.


Step 1: Understand why you need a WHY

Get acquainted with the philosophy and psychology behind having a purpose. Here are some good places to start:

golden-circleSource: Simon Sinek via Forbes

Also, you must understand, that finding the purpose can be a cumbersome and long-lasting process, that even can take months or years to nail perfectly. And you should be ready for adjusting it over time.

And, we’re not discussing your personal WHY, which is a similar but slightly different approach. I’ve taken Simon Sinek’s online course on this in order to teach others how to do it, but it’s not in scope for this blog post.

This process has turned out to work in 9 of 10 cases, but might still need adjustment to fit your context.


Step 2: Setup a 3 hour workshop

  1. Watch the Simon Sinek TED Talk video together. Debate if afterwards.
  2. Debate what your organization really(!) does. Answer these questions:
    • What problem are you solving?
    • For whom?
    • What benefit do they get from us?
    • Remember: A good WHY is unselfish, and underlines that what we do is to the benefit of somebody else.
    • Find examples of actions and projects you have executed, that is in line with the purpose. Good examples makes it easier for people to connect with. Storytelling is a huge part of the emotional message, you are conveying.
  3. Work in pairs and debate the WHY and try to come up with a good phrase that captures it. You might need to include HOWs and WHATs, if relevant to either clear your head or understand your WHY
  4. Work in groups of six-ten to show’n’tell your ideas. Inspect and adapt.
  5. Finally, a mutual show’n’tell and debate until you are done. The specific choice of words is important here. It’s all about feelings.

Use the checklist below for what a good WHY is.

I have experienced people get goosebumps when the right phrase for the purpose is on the whiteboard.

Update, 27-Aug-2016: Use this pyramid to identity what value you’re creating. Start from the bottom. Check those off that apply, and use it for the narrative and storytelling, and for illustrating what value you’re creating.



Step 3: Let it sink in, then adjust it if needed

A good WHY might have to grow on you and might need adjustment.

Get some feedback on the WHY. Test it. What feeling do you have, when you tell others about the WHY? Does it feel great? And how do they respond to it?

If adjustments are needed, then apply them.

Inspect and adapt.


Step 4: Activate the WHY

You need to activate the WHY

  • Present it properly. Storytelling and visuals are key to the communication.
  • If it feels right, it is right
  • Use the WHY in presentations
  • Use the WHY for framing your activities, both HOW and WHAT
  • Use the WHY for creating motivation and a movement
  • And most of all, use the WHY actively in decision making, when engaging people, when committing to deals, and when prioritizing tasks


Step 5: Use the WHY actively

Let me repeat the last bullet in step 4:

  1. Use the WHY actively
    • in decision making
    • when engaging people
    • when committing to deals
    • when prioritizing tasks
    • etc
  2. Use the WHY actively
  3. Use the WHY actively

Words without actions are dead words.


The checklist for a good WHY

Shout-out to Allan Ebdrup, CTO at Debitoor, for great inspiration on this.

Why do we need a WHY or a mission statement?

  • To Inspire & Motivate
  • To be the core of brand and communication
  • To set purpose, direction & focus
  • To separate moderately successful companies from hugely successful companies


What is a good mission statement?

A good WHY immediately answers these questions:

  • Why does this organization exist?
  • Why should anyone care?
  • Why do you go to work?


What is a good WHY?

  • Has to frame every single thing we do
  • Has to make sense to our customers
  • Has to help us succeed
  • Has to be just one sentence
  • Is unselfish, and it underlines that what we do is to the benefit of somebody else

You may use this template:


We [insert a verb, or a phrase with a verb], so that [insert a role] can [insert a goal or ability] .

What do we believe? We believe the world needs … what?

Our mission and purpose is … what?


The Expert level

A great WHY ensures, that we work to solve the “Global Grand Challenges” as described by Singularity University: Food. Education. Water. Security. Global Health. Energy. Environment. Poverty. Space.

A great WHY ensures, that we work to reach The 17 Sustainable Goals as described by the UN.

global grand challenges



picture by Ashim D’Silva / unsplash.com

About the author: Erik

Erik is trusted advisor, an experienced leader, department manager, project/program manager. Master of Science from Technical University of Copenhagen. EBA in cross-cultural project management.

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