martes, 18 de noviembre de 2014

Leading, persuade, motivate and inspire: the magic of comprehending "WHY"

by Gabriel Vallone

If we want to understand the interests at stake in a negotiation in order to create value, we need to overcome the positional approach bargainers tend to use. As the Harvard Negotiation Project teaches us, the key is to ask "why" the parties want what each one says it wants (1). When we ask "why" we begin to move certain springs that have to do with neurobiological aspects, which are what really move us to action. 

Let's extend the horizon beyond the negotiation issues to get a powerful and effective tool to be applied in any other human activity. What we will see below, is a useful advice to lead people, persuade an audience, conduct marketing activities, sell a product, provide a political discourse and to any other sort of process involving the mobilization of others to action. 

Simon Sinek presents the key to motivate, inspire and lead others: try to think, act and communicate starting with "WHY" you do something, and then transmit "HOW" you do it, and just finally explain "WHAT" you are doing (2). "WHY", "HOW" and "WHAT" in that order and not in any other, is what mobilizes people to action.

This idea is based on a biological aspect that responds to the evolutive way in which our brain has developed. Overall, our tendency is to follow the order in which the parts of our brain are arranged from the outside to the inner and deepest part, which means from the brain layers formed in more recent times of evolution to the most primitive.

The natural tendency is to start exposing what the brain neocortex dictates us, which is the part of the brain that dominates reason, our analytical framework, language and thought, which is consistent with our need to explain the "WHAT". First of all, we tend to present the reasons and logical structures that help to understand what the proposition is about, but we must take into account that we are not able to mobilize anyone by starting with that. In general, some psychological barriers and our difficulties to express emotions make us stay in that analytical approach and do not allow us to move on beyond reasoning. For instance, we lose the necessary emotional connection with others. 

In some circumstances, timidly, we approach to expose, even reluctantly, what the limbic system closer to the neocortex pushes us to express, and so, with great difficulty, and often indirectly, we express some emotions through the "HOW" things work. And in this case we make a basic and partial contact with emotions. But it is not enough. 

There are very few opportunities where we got to make a real emotional connection to trigger the reflexes that actually mobilize people to action, which are installed in the deeper limbic system, particularly in the reptilian brain that dominates our reflex responses, which move us without even thinking. Those internal springs may be activated only when we expose "WHY" we do something. 

If we want to persuade, motivate and inspire, we must overcome the neurobiological tendency to relegate the "WHY" of our intentions, and instead start by explaining "WHAT" we have come to present. It is better to start by exposing "WHY" we are presenting it. 

Let me give an example. Working with the sales teams of a prestigious pharmaceutical industry that wanted to enhance the market share of its high biotechnological drugs in a highly competitive market, my recommendation was to adjust the discourse of the medical sales representatives. They play an excellent role in the relationship with the physicians as part of the necessary emotional connection. The problem is that, as a kind of second best, the medical sales go from this social conversation directly to present the products and explain "WHAT" the active substance is and "HOW" it works, without explaining "WHY" the drugs have been developed or "WHY" the company has decided to produce them. 

My proposal in this case was to start by telling a story about "WHY" the company had developed each of the drugs in order to help them prepare the presentation, I sought inspiration in the strategic business plan. To the astonishment of the receptionist, I took down the frame with mission and vision of the company and read it to the audience. Then I asked the participants to make a speech to sell me the products beginning with "WHY" the company produces and sells them. Then I invited them to explain "HOW" the products are made, and only at the end they could talk about the characteristics of the product, the "WHAT". The same presentation implemented in different markets around of Latin America and applied in different scenarios with strong cultural differences, showed excellent results. 

Once the presentation is done, the emotional connection with the company and the products will have been mobilized to buy before understanding how they work and what they are like. 

The same process works for leading people. When we explain to our team "WHY" we will take certain decisions, and "HOW" we will do it, instead of starting with "WHAT" we will do, we are effectively inspiring and moving them to action. If only we explained "WHAT" is what we will do, we would be heading to the analytical and rational part of the brain, and in that case we wouldn´t be creating the conditions to lead and motivate people. 

Many times, those who lead a project wrongly assume that if their followers understand what they are going to do, then they will be sufficiently motivated to do it with their best performance. "I am here to explain to you what the project is about, so that you may understand it and help me pull it off ..." By explaining what the project is about, nobody is going to be mobilized. But if I we convey the project's raison d’être, our beliefs, why we are engaged in it, then we will have inspired and motivated our employees, making them true followers and promoters of the project. When the team is in tune with our beliefs, it produces the magic of an effective and inspiring leadership. Remember, the key is to start by explaining "WHY".  

In general, if we think of the company as a whole and stop in any process of any of the prospects of the business, what inspires and motivates, either our staff, customers, suppliers, the board, shareholders or anyone involved in our company, is to express "why" things are done the way they are, which involves, directly or indirectly, beliefs and values of the organization

Gabriel Vallone Blandamuro © 2014. All rights reserved.

(1) Fisher Roger, Ury William and Patton Bruce. 1991. “Getting to Yes: Negotiating an agreement without giving in”. Penguin Books USA Inc. New York, U.S.A., p. 44

(2) Sinek Simon. 2009. Start with Why: How great leadres inspire everyone to take action”. Penguin Group USA Inc. New York, U.S.A., p. 39

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