Asking the right questions



MANY ask: “Why do you do what you do?”

When we work with our local government unit (LGU) partners we ask them the same question and always challenge them to give us an answer that goes beyond reelection or securing a bigger budget. Leadership expert Simon Sinek, in his TED Talk “Start With Why,” says every organization knows “what” they do. Some know “how” they do what they do, but very few know “why” they do what they do.

The “why” refers to the reasons organizations exist and why people should care about them. It is so much more than simply making a profit or winning support. Answering the question “Why?” before “How?” and “What?” can lead an organization to greatness. As Mr. Sinek puts it, “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it. And what you do is the tangible proof of why you do it.”

At ISA, we encourage LGUs to do more for the constituents they serve and to go beyond the dictates of their mandates. Our Performance Governance System (PGS), a tool for governance reform, takes public sector organizations through four stages–with the first few steps designed specifically to help them lay down the foundations for transformation.

If you ask the governor of La Union, Francisco Emmanuel R. Ortega III, why the provincial government exists, he will answer you clearly that it exists to improve the quality of life of those in La Union. How does he plan to do it? By implementing the province’s vision to make La Union the “heart of agri-tourism” in Northern Luzon by 2025–a vision inspired by the agricultural endowments and natural beauty of the province coupled with its burgeoning potential as an up-and-coming tourist destination. By linking tourist and agriculture sites, the province employs a unique holistic approach for destination development and not merely site development.

Evoking a sense of community, the process of designing the vision of La Union was a collective effort of both internal and external stakeholders of the province. The mayors of different component LGUs in the province and representatives from the private sector pledged their cooperation for this shared vision, which is a critical point for the success of any transformation strategy. Recognizing their support, Governor Ortega said, “Real change in the province of La Union will only be possible through a strong partnership with all of you.”

Simon Sinek claims that people who band together under a shared belief create an environment where they feel they belong–a safe environment where trust can develop. When people feel safe and secure, it makes them work harder for their organization. On the other hand, if people don’t feel safe in their group, they spend time, resources and energy protecting themselves from each other, which negatively affects the organization and their customers.

This safe environment described by Mr. Sinek is clearly seen in the provincial government’s Senior Transformation Leadership (STL) team–a group comprised of department heads, the provincial administrator, and headed by the governor. It was this group that worked to flesh out the vision of the province and come up with initiatives that would enable the achievement of the vision. With its participatory nature, the PGS fully engaged the department heads to ensure that all proposed initiatives had buy-in.

A number of those proposed initiatives go beyond mandated operational work such as the creation of fully functioning tourism circuits, establishment of a province-wide knowledge management system, and alignment of the tourism and land use plans of the different component LGUs to the province’s. Though it sounds like an arduous task, the province is more than ready to step up to the plate.

Moving forward always poses challenges, but armed with the tools necessary to engage its stakeholders and the will to provide excellent public service to its constituents, the provincial government is on the right track.

As an elected official, wouldn’t you feel more inspired knowing that the people who work for you are doing their best without succumbing to manipulation or incentives? And as a citizen, wouldn’t you be more participative in your community knowing that your elected official has a clear purpose for being in office?

If you want to re-evaluate your organization, start by asking the right questions.

“Why do you do what you do?” and “Why should anyone care?”

A graduate of political economy, Luis Martinez is currently a program coordinator assigned to help implement the Institute for Solidarity in Asia’s (ISA) governance reform programs in local government units around the Philippines. To learn more about his work with the institute, visit



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1 Comment

  1. Atilla the Hun said it better: “If you ask all the wrong questions, you get all the wrong answers”

    You choose the wrong questions if you conduct a performance audit going around in gov’t asking why are you doing what you do and how much you got done, they will lie to your face to preserve their jobs/position, just like what they are doing now on the revised CSC Strategic Performance Management System.

    Better if you ask the problem areas in an organization what do you need to do a better job, and why don’t you get it. The answers will reveal so much more, specifically how corrupt, wasteful misallocation and monopolization of gov’t resources is destroying public service.