“I still don’t know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild
A million dead end streets
And every time I thought I’d got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I’ve never caught a glimpse

                        – “Changes” by David Bowie.

What is strategy without change? Isn’t it like a street sign with no sign, or an ocean liner without an ocean? Whatever the metaphor, the commonality of all leadership is to lead, inspire, or compel other human beings to change in some manner to achieve an outcome that is different from the starting position.

In most cases the ‘how’ and ‘what’ is well explained. By way of example, we have all seen the CEO/board endorsed ‘key 5 goals’ underpinning the operating strategy, targeting an increase in sales and margin by X with a return on operating capital of Y. This will be achieved by growth in retail touch points, consolidation of supply channel, enhancing information systems etc.

Here, we read the how and the ‘what” that will occur. Read as many of these as I do and you soon see that the “why” we are going down this path is more often not there. It is the why that is the only hope that we humans will even possibly move away from our desire to maintain the “status quo” or for some reduced our overt fear of changing our ways in motivating a momentum towards the outcome articulated.

Last year, I read a major top five distribution strategy for a national retailer which was very good on its grasp of the metrics, the differentiating rationale, trading complexities, organisational strength and operational priorities. This was a strategy costing hundreds of thousands and looking to influence a business worth millions. An important strategy for an organisation at the crossroads and at face value, looked to be what was required.

This strategy was absolutely doomed to be unsuccessful, simply because it didn’t contemplate or understand with any alacrity the “why”.

The why is often mistaken for an organisation enabler such as to make more profit. This is just a result, not the why, and in fact most staff don’t care or even understand the significance of the economic metric and certainly not enough to even contemplate changing their perception of their status quo.

The why is: we are asking humans to change and to believe in us and follow us.

Essentially, people don’t buy into “What you do, they buy into why you do it”.

Simon Sinek really makes this point far more eloquently in his wonderful talk entitled “How great leaders inspire action”.

Actually, this could be entitled how great boards, CEOs, leaders and consultants inspire change. (A wonderful investment of 20 minutes spent in understanding the power of why)

As Simon points out, “Martin Luther King did not proclaim that he had a plan. He told the world that he had a dream and millions have followed since.”

Think of retailers such as Anita Roddick, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney or Lorna Jane Clarkson changing the lives of so many by understanding the why.

Millions of consumers buying into the why not the how or what.

If you really want to inspire change consider deeply why you do what you do, (not the how and what so much) and then the crusade of change commences.

Happy Fit retailing.

First published in Inside Retail on March 4th 2015