Communicating Change: Begin with the WHO.

We may have all heard it…”Start with the WHY” when communicating change. 

Let’s look at the derivation of this approach…

In 1980 Bernice McCarthy developed the 4MAT approach. The approach was based on the work of John Dewey, Carl Jung, and David Kolb (St. Germain, 2002). The work was in response to McCarthy’s 25+ years as a classroom teacher researching how students learn best. The image below shows the different aspects of the 4MAT approach and corresponds with different parts of the brain.

In 2009, in his first TED Talk, Simon Sinek spoke about Starting with the WHY. This talk has been shared widely within educative circles.

As Leaders we also need to place a critical lens and an understanding of our unique context over anything we hear….no matter who it comes from or how much of a following it may have.

When we place McCarthy’s 4MAT approach and Sinek’s “Start with the WHY” into our Aotearoa New Zealand context, I believe there is a vital part of the puzzle missing…The WHO?

We know from research such as Berryman and Bishop’s Te Kotahitanga research project and Hattie’s meta-analyses of nearly 1200 pieces of research, that relationships are vital in any learning partnership. Leading adults through change is a learning partnership. In order to determine the best way of leading people through change, I believe we first need to understand WHO they are. We need to explore their world-views, fears, hopes, values and motivators. The diagram below shows how I see the order of this. From there we are able to more accurately and responsively determine what the WHY should be… then the WHAT and HOW.

So as you go forward this week, consider the WHO? 

Who are the people you are leading?

  • What motivates them?
  • What are their world-views? 
  • What de-motivates them?
  • How do they like to learn?
  • What do they value?

Then consider how you might differentiate your communication of the WHY, WHAT, HOW and WHAT IF based on your understanding of the WHO.

Go well this week – make it a cracker!! 🙂

St. Germain, C . (2002). Historical perspective: Major theories modeled in the 4MAT system for teaching learning and leadership. Wauconda, IL: About Learning. Retrieved October 2009, from

Need a speaker?

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