• The future doesn’t lie in repeating what you did, but asking why you do it

      Yesterday was one of those inspirational days that happens all too rarely. I wasn’t at a TED convention, a CBI event, or even the Davos Forum, but our own sales and marketing conference to which we invited some very influential external speakers, many of whom have written deeply stimulating books.

      Peter Docker, formerly an RAF Group Captain, captivated the entire audience talking about the ‘Power of Why’. He described the magic circle model, which illustrates how we approach business tasks from the outside in by looking firstly at ‘What are we going to do?’ followed by ‘How will we do it?’, but rarely ‘Why are we doing this?’

      He showed how inspirational leaders like Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and Anita Roddick challenge established thinking by not taking that approach, but by starting at the inner core of ‘why’. As he showed, by thinking about the motivations and perceptions that drive decisions, you soon realise that rather than keep repeating the same path, a totally new approach can yield the kind of success those people have created both for themselves, their customers and employees.

      The ‘what’ part of business thinking is the comfort zone, and if you stay there, all you will achieve is incremental improvement at best, or a perpetual Groundhog day at worst.

      I could easily see how this so effectively reflects the Facilities industry, where too much of our time focuses on measurable minutiae. We specify how often spaces must be cleaned, what chemicals will be used, which qualifications staff must have to operate equipment, together with a million and one other elements that make up both an ITT and the final contract.

      Conversely, too few people in the industry focus on the second, inner, part of the magic circle – the ‘How?’ These are the people that come up with innovative answers such as automation, zero waste management, Direct audits, Ozone3 and other developments that are set to radically improve the working lives of those who both maintain and use the workplace.

      Then we come to the innermost part of the circle – ‘Why’. As Peter pointed out, inspirational leaders have a vision at the centre of their lives that continually addresses the ‘Why?’ Richard Branson has challenged thinking in the music, travel and cosmetics industries, and one day no doubt will carry people to a space hotel, by staring from the premise of ‘Why do people do things?’ and working out how to find a better way.

      After all, he didn’t invent airline travel, or any of the other products that carry the Virgin brand, but, as Peter explained, the massive Virgin difference is its culture. Branson’s motivation is to make people enjoy the experience of dealing with Virgin more than any competitor, which he achieves through a combination of product quality and service and sharing the vision among all who work for him.

      I have to confess that although we’ve not thought about it so analytically, this new approach to thinking is exactly what we’ve been seeing over the last few executive dinners. When we started this programme three years ago the talk focused on the details of service delivery, KPIs and SLAs. At our last dinner we spent a whole evening not discussing what we do, or indeed the how, but the why of FM. We heard from Property directors more concerned about the way people enjoy the experience of coming to work in the buildings they run than negotiating lease terms they.

      People are talking about the challenges of humanizing services, and indeed our own research reflects a deep dissatisfaction among the workforce with the way buildings support productivity.

      The presentations yesterday, combined with what we’re hearing across the client base all point to a very volatile, uncertain, changing and ambiguous future. I have a feeling as we look towards it, that starting with the question of ‘why do we do this?’, rather than ‘How and what have we done before?’ will give us a much firmer footing on which to build successful and sustainable progress.


      If you’d like to know more about the power of ‘Why’ and how to apply it to your work, check out Peter Docker’s site