Vision. Mission. Purpose. Culture. Core Values. Do you ever find these concepts fuzzy, overlapping and a little hard to grasp? If so, you are in very good company. You might also question whether they even belong in a small entrepreneurial business. Or you might wonder if time spent thinking about them, and work spent defining them might just be for marketing specialists who only want to use them in the company’s ads.
Each expert seems to have their own take on what is and isn’t important about these concepts but there is no argument about their link to a significant business. Most of us are jaundiced consumers about companies that splash their mission statement about. And our company meeting time is so precious and so expensive that devoting it to the impractical or too theoretical is to rob the client or the project at hand.
But if you have 6 draft horses and want to plow a field, would the time spent harnessing those horses be a waste? Of course not, because that would be the way you would turn them into a team. You would be able to control their direction and maximize their output.
Employees are certainly not horses; but purpose, culture, core values, vision are all the ways that you help your team to pull together, to make effective decisions, and to work with the true end in mind.
Let me recommend a really good book. It’s easy to read – actually the story of how two people in an insurance company define their company’s purpose, core values and vision. And along the way, they apply these concepts to a school and to one of their families.
The book is Full Steam Ahead by Ken Blanchard and Jesse Stoner. If you would like people to not just work at your company but to work even more effectively and be attracted and nurtured by your values. You need to define and disseminate your culture. If you would like them to focus on a larger purpose, to see a significance to their work beyond the day-to-day, this book is a really helpful resource.
As an owner you have a vision for your company, but is it compelling to others? Your company already has a culture – it’s what one employee tells their brother who is interested in working for you. It’s the underground “skinny” on the company. It may be good, it may be bad. It’s likely to be a mix. And you certainly have core values. They may include greed or generosity, respect or lack thereof, or you may treat clients one way and employees another. Those core values will usually come from the owner. But when they are not openly defined, a strong employee may be setting up their own culture and values and those may be toxic to yours. You want to manage your culture and you want it to be positive and inspiring.
Exceptional companies should bring their positive culture and values to the surface. Then they can be openly lived, discussed, measured and taught. They can be powerful in attracting like-thinking new hires and in retaining your existing staff. Defined guidelines as to how your company does business will make many tough decisions much easier.
Southwest Airlines, WalMart, Disney, L.L. Bean, Ritz-Carlton are exceptional companies that believed that in order to rise from competency to mastery they needed a team that clearly knew and believed in the company “way.”
How could you even begin this journey? Look at it as having two phases – the definition phase and the living-it phase. If you haven’t defined your company’s purpose, mission, vision and values and delved into the congruent behaviors that accompany them, that will be phase one.
Start by getting each of your employees their own copy of Full Steam Ahead. Then hold discussions around the book whether in full company meetings or by departments. Get the buzz going and decide how you want to proceed. You might bring in a facilitator to help you with an all day meeting or you may decide to bootstrap the effort and do it yourself in small chunks.
It has been my experience that most (not all) employees dig right in and are so enthusiastic about this effort because we all want significance in our lives. We want to work for a bigger purpose. We want to see our jobs as important. We want fair and caring rules about how we treat our co-workers and our clients.
And what are mission, purpose, vision, values, and culture? Why, they’re the pavers on the road from success to significance.