Match Your Why

By Matt Oatley

In Business / Culture / Humanity

This post is a follow-up to Start With Why. If you haven't read that, start there!

What about Our Mission Statement?

I told you we’d be talking about “Why?” a lot. ?

Seriously, you’ve got your “Why?” yet you can’t swap out that mission statement you and the team spent weeks stitching together. Hmmm. Perhaps your “Why?” only sounds inspiring to you? It could simply need some testing and tweaking. It might need a marketer’s touch. That’s what we’re going to explore together right now.

Southwest Airlines

The airline industry is a tough business. While almost every airline on the planet has ups and downs, good years and bad years, one airline has been consistently profitable for 30 years: Southwest. What are they doing differently than everyone else? I’ll tell you, the secret is… you guessed it, their “Why?”!

Southwest Airlines’ “Why?” has been and always will be, “Flying shouldn’t be expensive.” This conviction influences all their prime objectives, especially their drive to reduce costs! But “Flying shouldn’t be expensive” and “Reduce costs!” doesn’t really inspire action, nor do they look attractive on a billboard or a marketing pamphlet. So with the assistance of a marketing team, they came up with:

Southwest is “THE” low-fare airline.

– Herb Kelleher

Period. Short, simple, and straight to the point. This new marketing statement communicates perfectly their “Why?” and, just as importantly, makes it palatable to everyone.

“Of course, this “Why?” won’t mean anything and won’t inspire anyone unless Southwest delivers on its bold promise. They MUST be THE low-fare airline. They must do everything possible to provide the most affordable flights—always and forever. They can’t EVER be more expensive.

It may sound daunting, but at least Southwest knows where the goal line is.

Matching Your “Why?” Internally

Southwest’s “Why?” influences EVERY aspect of their business and conditions their thinking when it comes to the day-to-day operations of their airline. The “Why?” also cascades down throughout the entire company and inspires everyone who works there. You would think that in order to be THE low-fare airline, Southwest employees might be treated poorly or their paychecks might not be all that great. However, you would be surprised to discover that everyone loves working at Southwest, from the manager of operations to the janitorial staff. They’re all happy working there. Why? How?

Having a simple and clear “Why?” reduces questions while going about the normal routines of work. Acknowledged or not, their “Why?” creates guidelines for the behavior of all Southwest employees.

An example: Suzy, a new flight attendant preparing for her first flight, thinks passengers might like a light meal halfway through the flight—dainty chicken salad sandwiches perhaps? Her direct superior asks her, “Does offering dainty chicken salad sandwiches help make Southwest THE low-fare airline?” She considers: No, offering the sandwiches would add to the cost of the flight, which goes against the “Why?”

Another example: Is it okay to announce an employee’s birthday over the PA? Sure (if they are the kind of person who would like that attention)! It makes them feel special and it’s absolutely free. Is it okay to throw confetti in their honor? Probably not; the extra mess would require cleanup crews and thus incur extra costs.

Knowing the “Why?” helps employees navigate unscripted situations. Instead of memorizing a list of rules, then can apply the “Why?” of being THE low-fare airline to any decision.


Having a palatable “Why?” works just as well externally as it does internally. You will attract customers who believe what you believe, and they will appreciate having clear guide-rails in place that dictate how they are to behave.

Pretend your “Why?” is, “Insurance quotes in three simple clicks.” This sets expectations for you, your team, and your customers… so you’d better not have a massive form on your website! Instead, your form asks for their name, email address, and property address. One-click later, they have their quote.

You see, your “Why?” will inevitably set expectations and condition the behavior of those around you. You will make sure everything your agency does is rooted in simple three-step-or-less processes. Your web developer won’t create a massive form for your clients to endure. None of your producers will ask too many questions when talking on the phone with prospective clients. Best of all, your customers will be in LOVE with you because you don’t force them to fill out a bunch of laborious forms!

Make sure your “Why?” permeates everything you do. Before you make any decision, consult your “Why?” and see if your decision is congruent with your “Why?”

In future posts, we’ll dive deeper into how to practically structure your agency so everyone involved operates in obedience to the “Why?”