Make Your Organization Great, Starting with a Why & a Promise

This post was written about why and a promise by Tony Gillen, who was Verblio’s (formerly BlogMutt) spotlighted freelance writer for the month of January. Tony wrote this guest post on a topic of his choice. Visit his writer profile to read more about his experience and for customer testimonials praising his work. 


‘Why’ is one of those words that carry powerful hidden meanings. When your boss says: “Why did you do that?” you probably go straight into defense mode. When a raving fan asks: “Why did you go into business (or launch your charity) in the first place?” your adrenaline begins to surge, and you tell them about the promise you made to yourself or to a family member, and the continuing promise you make to your customers, clients, patients and others who benefit from what you do. As Robert Service, The Bard of the Yukon, wrote in his poem about Sam McGee, “a promise made is a debt unpaid”, so you continue to fulfill your mission.

‘Why’ & ‘Promise’ Are Powerful Words

The world’s best-known promise is probably the Scout Promise. Millions of people repeat it, or a variation of it, every week. “On my honor I promise to do my best to do my duty…” Honor, best, and duty are also powerful words.

The Scout Promise does not exist in isolation. The Scout Law provides standards and actions so every single scout knows how to live by and to deliver on their promise. We all know what scouts stand for, how they behave and why they behave that way. There is a living, breathing philosophy on which the scouting body stands. The promise and the law give life to the philosophy through each scout’s actions.

Scouts grow up. After they stop being scouts, they go on to work in, or own small businesses and major corporations. They also work in non-profit organizations, government departments and they do volunteer work. Those companies and organizations stand on their own living, breathing philosophies.

Company philosophies are the result of planned intention or they can be just a default condition. As the leader, you simply choose which it is to be. Every business and every organization stands on its philosophy. When it is a planned intention, the ‘why’ and the ‘promise’ are clear, and the philosophy becomes everyone’s beacon and guide. The result is always a success. In addition, those companies succeed at a greater rate and reach greater heights than most.

If you intend to succeed in the same way, you just have to answer two questions:

  • What is my ‘why’?
  • How do I get everyone to help deliver the ‘promise’?

What Is Your ‘Why’ & What Do You ‘Promise’?

What do you aspire to, and what will it be like when you are living your aspirations? Your why and your promise give you your answer. We know why Federal Express is in business, and we know what FedEx promises: “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”

This is FedEx’s promise to its marketplace. Its mission and goals take longer to list out, of course, but we know their why and their promise after only nine words. The same goes for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “We grant the wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength, and joy.” Twenty-one words sum up their why and their promise.

When you know your why and what you promise to others you can set about making it happen. Walt Disney had a complex why, and his promises were many, but his how boiled down to four words: “Curiosity, confidence, courage, constancy.”

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Know your why, know your promise, and then your how will become clear.

Breathe Life Into Your Organization’s Philosophy

What follows applies to every kind of organization, but, to keep it simple, we will focus on business organizations.

Many businesses have mission statements that reflect their why and their promise. All mission statements and vision statements act as both a beacon and a guide to their team members and to their marketplace.

They all incorporate some basic principles. They are:

  • Inspiring
  • Plausible
  • Specific
  • Clear, and
  • They speak directly to their chosen audience.

Unfortunately, many businesses and non-profits overcomplicate their why, and they hide their promise from view.

In what audiences consider one of the best three TED talks ever given, Simon Sinek says that many businesses get it wrong because their beacon illuminates the wrong thing. Sinek makes a powerful point when he says Martin Luther King Jr. did not inspire millions of people by starting his speech with the sentence “I have a plan”.

Sinek says that even though business leaders write mission statements which are plausible, specific, clear and well-directed, too many talk about the how, followed by the what, and then they finally get around to their why and their promise.

How and what are not very inspiring.

For every company to breathe life into its philosophy, its people must want to do what they do in certain ways. They should want to deliver the company’s promise just as scouts act in certain ways to deliver their own personal promise according to the law that confirms the scouting philosophy.

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How do You Get Everyone to Deliver the Promise?

All businesses stand on their core philosophy. Businesses breathe life into that philosophy through the interaction of three core elements:

1. The people who work there.
2. The products and services its customers buy.
3. The promises its customers expect to receive when they do buy.

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Three forces impact these three elements. When they are all working together, they maximize success and take the business to greater heights. The three forces are:

1. Communication, which interacts between the philosophy, the people, and the company promise.
2. Training, which interacts between the philosophy, the people, the company’s products and services, and the marketplace.
3. Marketing, which interacts between the philosophy, the company’s promise, the products and services, and the marketplace.

Let’s talk about each.

1. Communication

People do their jobs. How well they do them determines the result. Internal communications keep the promises the business makes to its customers and its employees in the forefront of everyone’s mind as they do their jobs. Communication is a two-way street. It ensures clear messages are sent and received within the business. The messages travel in different ways.

Today’s communications follow many routes. There are official newsletters, emails and other announcements, as well as the less formal private Facebook pages and tweets. More formally, there are team and project meetings, job descriptions, standards manuals, and the annual appraisal process. When people clearly understand, and buy into the why, and are skilled at the what and the how, the business becomes fertile ground for continuous improvement, as well as being an efficient and effective production center.

Being able to and wanting to contribute to making everything better—both inside the business as well as in the marketplace—encourages everyone to do their best. They know the reasons they should do their best, they want to, and they have the means to.

Add appropriate rewards, and the next force integrates naturally into the grand scheme. It also enables everyone to apply the philosophy to every level of responsibility and to every task they carry out.

2. Training

Training impacts everybody. Training raises their awareness about the promise. It raises knowledge and skill levels so the people who want to can do their jobs to the best of their ability. Knowledge and skill training covers everything practical. It enables individuals and teams to do the obvious; the tasks in their job descriptions performed to the quality level covered in the standards manuals. Training also enables them to associate those tasks with the higher things that matter—the promises the company makes to everyone inside the business, and to everyone in the marketplace.

Training and internal communications really do work together. The people know why they get trained, mentored, coached, counseled and, if necessary, disciplined. Everything can be related to the philosophy and, therefore, to the promise.

The net result is that people’s awareness is raised, and their jobs take on real meaning. The people align their attitudes and their abilities with the promise. Attitude, knowledge and skill fuel personal motivation. The people who work in the company do not just want to get a good day’s pay for a good day’s work. They do want that, of course, as well as annual bonuses and well-designed incentive schemes.

In addition, and more importantly, they develop their own aspirations to become the best they can be—what Abraham Maslow referred to as self-actualization.

3. Marketing

Marketing is the third force. It educates the marketplace about the promise, and encourages the marketplace not only to want what the company sells, but also to prefer what the company sells to what its competitors sell.

Marketing has several primary functions. It, for example, delivers the message about:

  • The products and services its customers buy.
  • How the company delivers its promise to them via those products and services.
  • Why the promise matters so much to all concerned—customers, employees, the local community and, if appropriate, to the whole world.

Inbound marketing enables and encourages the marketplace to:

  • Learn about the philosophy and the promise.
  • Like and admire the company and its people.
  • Understand how the philosophy and the promise are intertwined with the products and services.
  • Want to get involved with the company in different ways.

Different marketing messages may, for example, be aimed at encouraging its recipients to become customers, employees, associates, affiliates, vendors, and champions.

Outbound marketing attracts and interests future customers, so the sales function can play its part efficiently and effectively. Full order books drive every company function; manufacturing, stock control, purchasing, administration, accounts, customer service, etc. Everyone who is trained to fulfill those functions works together to build loyalty; loyalty inside the company from its employees, and loyalty to the company from its customers.

Loyal customers are proud of the loyalty they have for the company, and they want to stay loyal. They want to keep getting new benefits and, ultimately, they want to become champions for the company. Apple is a perfect example of a company whose living, breathing philosophy has resulted in its customers buying into the promise, remaining loyal and becoming champions for both the company and its products, while the company soars to great heights.

The Scout’s Promise & Your Promise

It is your why and it is your promise. It is also your how.

Here is another variation of the Scout’s Promise which reflects a living, breathing company philosophy:

“On my honor I promise to do my best to do my duty to my people, so they can and will always want to do their best for themselves and each other, for our customers, our suppliers, our associates, our affiliates, and our community. We will focus on our promise so everyone we touch will see us as special and as a valuable addition to their lives. We are prepared!”

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