By John Rosling: CEO Shirlaws Business Coaching UK

Having a strong “why” in the business is fundamental to creating spectacular success and a satisfying and rewarding environment for everyone in the business. “Why” businesses are great businesses — and great places to be. In this Article I’ll look at the key elements that create the “why” and how you can build them in your business.

“When people believe in what you believe in, they work with their blood, sweat and tears. When they don’t believe in what you believe in, they work for your money.” Simon Sinek


As CEO it is your job to build and nurture the culture of your business. This isn’t some fluffy bolt-on but is fundamental to your success. It is the reason talented people will work for you, stay loyal to you, and create wealth for you. It also makes your business a fun place to be. It’s a fundamental building block to your market position which is what ensures customers continue buying from you and pay more for your services than that of a competitor.


To create the culture you need to know very clearly in your own mind the fundamental purpose or intent of your business - why your business exists. People want to feel part of something with a purpose more compelling, more important, than just making money. Making money is the outcome of doing what you do brilliantly. The source of getting everyone to be brilliant is rooted in an aligned purpose. It’s vital to understand why you get out of bed every day and come to work — and it’s equally vital to discuss this with your key team to get agreement as to what the intent of the business is. If you feel daft doing this, get some external facilitation.


A common and aligned intent can be an incredibly strong motivator for everyone in the business. But it needs to be supported by a very strong set of shared values. I meet businesses all the time who have their values written down and filed somewhere. It’s a waste of time. If no one knows what the values of your business are, how can they be used to create a powerful culture? How can those values be used to align your people into a powerful force to deliver brilliantly?

“How do you get people to come together and be great? It’s establishing a sense of common purpose. Greatness comes having a vision that goes beyond yourself and even beyond the organisation” Randy Komisar

Why do most businesses fail to leverage their values — to create value from values if you like? It isn’t because they don’t have values. In my view, it is because they misunderstand what values are for. Your values are not to bung up on a website to demonstrate that you are a business with integrity. They are the building blocks of your shared culture, and they support your intent. They are the common principles that drive your business and all your people to success.

And the secret of unlocking this potential sits in three simple steps:

• You have to agree, as a team, what your shared values are (and review these choices annually). These are not your values to impose on the business (remember the plan is to get the business working for you). And ideally you shouldn’t have more than three.

• You have to make them real. You must associate each value with a set of behaviours that you will use to check-in that your values are being lived.

• You must consciously live by your values, publish them and use them, making them integral to the business.

With these three steps you will create values that will genuinely support the cultural and commercial success of your business.


Having founded your powerful culture on a shared set of values and with a common intent, your job as CEO is now to paint a picture of where you are going as a business that is so compelling and exciting that everyone in the business will buy into and carry your business to where you want it to be. I have a dream, not I have a plan.

Of course, almost every business has a vision. But very few ever get there. In my view, that’s because no one in the business really believes in the vision or feels the vision to be theirs. As with values, if the vision of your business is your vision and is not shared and owned by your team, then the business will always be dependent on you and can never reach your ultimate goal (unless of course that goal or vision is pretty modest).

So how do you get your team to own the vision, to hold it as their own and drive your business towards it? The vision has to be compelling. “To be the premier widget manufacturer in the West Midlands” is an intention (or a mission, if you insist). It is unlikely to get your team champing at the bit on a Monday morning. You need to find a vision that they will immediately understand and buy into.

Then, here’s the trick, you have to take them to that vision and get them to really feel it. What it would smell like and taste like to be there? If the vision is powerful enough and relevant enough to them, once they have experienced it they will want to get there and enthusiastically work towards that goal. If all this sounds like a lot of work when you are just trying to run your business then you have made my point for me. If you really want to grow your business and have it work for you, you need to (progressively) stop managing your business and start leading it. Culture, vision and values are vital elements of leadership. It will create a powerful “why” for your people and your customers.

Have you ever reflected on how officers get their soldiers to put their lives in extreme danger? The answer is that they don’t “get” them to. They lead. The army, the regiment, the platoon create a strong culture based on a shared set of values and intent. The officer or NCO then sets a clear vision or “objective” and the unit, literally, goes through fire to achieve it. That is exactly what you are trying to do. But with fewer bangs and less bloodshed.

A final word

Culture and vision are not easy things to achieve. Most businesses fail to create either in a way that will really drive value in the business. In my experience, the only way to design and build intent, values and vision that everyone really, really buys into is to invest in some outside help. An outside perspective helps ensure everyone is able and comfortable to express themselves and be heard.

Leadership needs constant work. Culture needs your constant attention. “Manage the energy” is your day job. Checking in with your people, doing little things that will keep their energy positive. This is important because it’s the only way you will reach the goal you have set for yourself.

Your intent is likely to stay the same but the business needs to be reminded of it. Your vision needs to be kept fresh and alive to your people. Your values need to be re-visited about once a year.

An absolute cardinal rule of leadership in an ambitious business that really intends to grow is to get the senior team off site and out of the business at least once a year and preferably twice. This is your Strategic Retreat and is the time to review and refresh your vision and values and work on the key strategic initiatives that will fundamentally grow your business.


UnLtd, The Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs www.unltd.org.uk is a charity which supports social entrepreneurs - people with vision, drive and passion who want to change the world - by providing funding and support to make their ideas a reality. The UnLtd Ventures team has a strong sense of its purpose which they were finding difficult to articulate succinctly. The team felt pulled in many directions and was somewhat unfocused.

They were aware they were not communicating as effectively as they could with target clients and unable to share agreed criteria on whom to support.

UnLtd Ventures asked the Shirlaws Foundation for help and together we worked on clarifying what the team really needed to achieve, the values the team shared, and the clear intent or purpose around which they could align. Nynke Brett of UnLtd remembers the problem was not articulating their values. The challenge was they had so many. “We knew it was important to get these clear as a team so we could focus effectively on helping our clients but we all felt overwhelmed. For us it was incredibly useful to have a knowledgeable facilitator to steer the conversation. I remember the breakthrough came when we were asked “if you were “unlimited”, what would you be?” and it suddenly seemed so easy — that’s when we agreed on our values of “fearless, caring and challenging”. These values were then built upon to create a compelling “intent” for the team, with an agreed purpose or context, in their case “to transform how business is done (one entrepreneur at a time)”. Nynke concludes “Having these values and an agreed intent has been incredibly important and helpful to us, and using them has changed our behaviour and effectiveness as a team”.


• A strong culture will drive your success by recruiting the best people and most loyal customers. Culture comes from a discussed and agreed intent based on shared values.

• Leadership is about creating the dream — the vision thing is your job.

• All successful Leadership Teams get away on a Strategic Retreat every 6 months.

• Get outside help.

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