What is a WHY Statement and why should you care?

To build partnerships so that together we can achieve more.

— Unified Support Model

By Jeremy Britton and Amy McDonald

What is a WHY?

Every team in UCD knows WHAT they do. They are fully aware of their day-to-day tasks and what’s required to carry them out. In most instances, the teams also have a strong grasp of HOW they do it. Whether they’re placing the focus on the student experience, looking to innovate and develop, providing a supportive and engaging atmosphere where every member of the team can flourish, the team will usually understand their avenues to success.

A WHY is the team’s shared underlying purpose, cause or belief that motivates them to do what they do the way that they do it.

So, what is a WHY Statement?

A WHY Statement is a sentence that clearly expresses the team’s distinctive contribution and impact. For anyone who is interested in learning more about the concept of WHY, the idea comes from Simon Sinek, who presented this topic in a Ted Talk.

The reason we were drawn to WHY and to running a WHY Statement discovery process as the initial workshop with each office is that it draws on the experiences of a team to verbalise things as they already are. It is not an aspirational exercise. All too often we’re undergoing change it can feel like aiming for a peak or a summit that’s out of reach. We can become so focussed on the destination that we don’t stop and look at where we are and what got us here. The WHY discovery process is grounded in real-life stories and through these stories, paints a picture of what that team already look like when they are operating at their best.

What does the workshop involve?

The workshop is run – usually in the UCD Agile space – over half a day (4 hours). All members of the team should be invited to take part. During the USM rollout we’ve been engaging with Anyone in the office who is involved in supporting students/staff in 1-to-1 interactions.

The focus here is on the team’s experiences and stories. They are guided in defining their draft Why Statement by being led in exercises that highlight their unique contributions and their impacts.

What do you do with your WHY?

There is no one better placed to give voice to the values, contributions and impacts of a team than the people who work in it. Through the WHY process, the team can discover and identify what they look like when they’re operating at their best. Through discussions led by the USM facilitators, the team can determine what practices help or hurt when it comes to achieving their goals.

A clear sense of WHY can be used to motivate, inform and support a team’s on-going delivery and development of services and supports. It can also assist in building a team’s sense of self, as well as give them confidence in their ability to navigate and own change in a way that doesn’t compromise their values or standards.


How does it fit together with the Unified Support Model?

The USM will measure success through its ability to empower people to define and deliver a consistently high standard of service in the most effective and efficient way. It’s about ensuring that the interaction for the student/staff member is of a consistently high standard, unifying the delivery of service in a given team and unifying the overall delivery of services for the University as a whole. Achieving consistency by implementing common systems and processes is the easy part. Ensuring a high standard is the hard part. By guiding teams in the WHY discovery process, it is our hope that we can guide them in aligning those new systems and processes with their own values and beliefs.