Never Stop Asking Why

Never Stop Asking Why

In fast changing times, constantly asking why we do what we do is profoundly important.


I learnt to appreciate the importance of clarity of purpose when confronted by my team at ninemsn.

We were still a start-up in the early stage of building our business and burning about $3 million a month in cash.

Our web site and its performance were ordinary at best, and the directors of ninemsn were not backward in letting me know they weren’t impressed. I needed to take action.

In order to get to the bottom of what was going wrong, I held a company meeting to find out how people were feeling about the business and what we were doing.

I asked team members to rate their overall satisfaction (out of 10) with working at ninemsn. 

The result was a 4 out of 10 satisfaction rating. Not a good score.

Despite the benefits of a fantastic work environment; beautiful offices in Paddington; open air workspaces; a courtyard which featured a beautiful old oak tree; and an open invitation to innovate and create new media experiences pretty much at will, people were not happy working at ninemsn. 

I was taken aback by how poor the score was, composed myself and asked a bunch of questions to understand what was behind the negative sentiment.

We landed on a very clear and consistent message.

People were not clear about our purpose or where ninemsn was heading.

As a result, they were not sure that what they individually were contributing or working on really mattered.

This articulation of the issue by the team was helpful and profound. 

It amplified for me something I knew, but did not adequately appreciate. 

It amplified the importance to success in changing times of clear purpose and alignment with that purpose.

Over the next twelve months, we made some tough calls in order to get much clearer on our purpose and better alignment with it.

We reduced the things we were doing from about ten things to three we could do well and win in the market at.

Those changes were tough to implement because they meant telling good people with good ideas that we were no longer going to work on the things they were doing.

The benefits of those tough calls and the focus and alignment that eventuated were clear.

A year later, the same survey delivered a satisfaction score of 8 out of 10 and that's where it stayed for many years as ninemsn emerged to be the industry leader at that time and recognized in the industry as a great place to work.

Constantly questioning why you do what you do and making sure it is relevant to you and your customers is vital in changing times.