How many times have you walked into a room with slides full of facts and figures and charts about your content strategy, only to walk out without any real commitments?

“Oh, that’s a nice thought,” everyone agrees. “We should be doing that.” Or maybe they support a specific initiative, but they can’t explain the Why — and it soon drops off their radar.

What Do We Mean by Why?

Your Why is your vision, your reason for being. Your Why is consistent. Your goals and objectives may change over time, but your Why is what drives you, what makes you show up every day. As Simon Sinek has been teaching the world, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Why the Why Matters

If your content Why is to create global content automatically, or to have a unified approach to all of your corporate content, or to focus on excellent quality content, the Why matters.

Colleen Jones, CEO of Content Science, lays out three key reasons:

  • Vision = Success for content leaders as well as content teams. That vision, the Why, is the foundation for content success. Leaders inspire us.¹
  • Content has a multi-year roadmap. A common vision aligns different stakeholders for a long time. It’s necessary. Content is a long-term investment and requires long-term focus.
  • Vision drives clarity and motivation. Sinek refers to this as the Celery Test. Your Why will attract like-minded people and make your decisions clear. In fact, “with a Why clearly stated in an organization, anyone within the organization can make a decision as clearly and as accurately as the founder.”

The stronger and more clear your Why is, the more it will influence decisions made about the business and the organization.

How to Figure out Your Content Why

Spend some focused time answering the following questions. Don’t hesitate to approach this as a divergent thinking exercise, jotting down what comes to mind as you think about each question. Then, look for common themes to converge on your Why.

  • Why does your organization exist? Why are you organized the way you are?
  • Where do you want your organization to be in three years? Where do you want your content to be in three years?
  • Why does your company do what it does? How does your content vision fit in with its vision?
  • What do you do better than anyone else? What do people expect from you and your team?
  • What key successes have you had? What made them successful?
  • What key failures have you had? What made them less than successful?
  • What do you want to have remain the same with regard to content strategy? What do you want to change?
  • What is your Celery Test — how do you make and measure content decisions?

You may find that the answers vary. Take a step back and view it all as data you can use to identify your Why, your vision for the future.

What if Whys Conflict?

Organizations have many teams. If you find that other teams have Whys that conflict with yours, use those discoveries to engage in conversation. Find out about the other person’s Why. Listen with the intent to understand, not to refute.

For example, at one company, our localization team had a very strong Why to automate translation to improve time to market and costs of translation. To do so, they needed good quality content. Content providers had their own Why around quality content – and their own understanding of what good quality content meant: readable, usable content. They assumed the content that met Localization’s criteria did not meet theirs. By doing a study, the linguists were able to demonstrate that content that met quality criteria for machine translation also was less ambiguous and more usable for both English and non-native English speakers. With this assurance, the teams were better able to engage and support each other.

How to Communicate the Why — Be a Thought Leader

I recently reread Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant and was reminded of his reference to Kotter’s research: Leaders undercommunicate their vision by a factor of ten.

Why do leaders undercommunicate?

They assume people get it. And they might have, at one point. But people forget. When the effort moves to the How and the What, the Why gets “fuzzy.” We must continue to communicate the Why, to remain clear about the vision, so it can motivate, inform decisions, and let us know we are on the right track. This was one of the first change management lessons I learned (the hard way): Don’t assume because people got it at one time, that they continue to do so.

When communicating your Why, make sure you are getting in front of the right people you want on board. Whose buy-in do you need? Who needs to make decisions about your project? Who needs to carry out the plan? Who has a lot of influence in the organization? Think up, out, and down.

How to Learn More About the Why

If you haven’t already watched Simon Sinek’s talk on how great leaders inspire action, a humble affair with flip charts, please do so. His talk has become one of the top five TED talks of all time.

What is your content Why?

Stay tuned for Alexia’s next article, Content Quality: Effectiveness, Not Perfection.

About Alexia Idoura

Alexia-Idoura
Alexia Idoura, ACC, PMP, started using Acrolinx with her teams in 2005, when her focus moved from content management to content quality. Having a strong Why was essential to successful adoption. After a 20+ year high-tech corporate career, Alexia now runs her own global executive coaching company, Idoura Coaching, LLC. Combining a coaching mindset with consulting expertise gets results. http://www.idoura.com


¹ Sinek reminds us: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the “I Have a Dream” speech, not the “I Have a Plan” speech.