We all have a mission in life. Maybe your mission is to have a job in which you improve people’s lives. Maybe your mission is to raise the best kids you can. Maybe your mission is to make a lot of money early in your career so you can retire at an early age and dedicate your later years to volunteering, or sailing, or writing fiction. Mission is what drives us as humans. It’s what inspires us get out of bed in the morning and embrace the day.
Likewise, with an ever growing conscious and purpose-driven workforce, some businesses are using missions to drive their decision-making process. And the businesses that have developed a strategic, integrated, and most importantly, authentic Mission through which all business decisions are made, are actually outperforming the competition.
Meanwhile, some businesses believe they are too small to focus on “feel good” principles such as developing a mission, vision, or set of company values. They are focused on getting off the ground, developing a consistent product/service, marketing, repaying investors, and becoming profitable. To those businesses, I give a couple of examples (and there are many) of successful businesses that took the time to “bake in” mission in the early stages of an organization’s development.
One example is New Belgium Brewing Company – one of the most popular, mission-driven, craft beer companies in the world. As legend has it, before the company produced their first barrel of beer, co-founders Kim Jordan and Jeff Lebesch went on a hike to discuss what kind of company they wanted to be. They decided on their mission: "To operate a profitable company which is socially, ethically and environmentally responsible, that produces high quality beer true to Belgian brewing styles."
Then, there’s Starbucks. Despite the belief of many, Starbucks wasn’t founded to put independent coffee houses out of business and dominate the coffee market. Rather, before Starbucks opened their 2nd store, the founding owners (Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl, and Gordon Bowker) sat down and had a conversation about what kind of company they wanted to be. In Europe, the founders had seen how coffee shops were often THE community gathering places, especially in small towns; the places where family and friends met and socialized, where business people met to discuss business ventures, where people relaxed and recreated, and where cultural activities happened. And while large cities had coffee shops, in the 1970’s they were not as ubiquitous as they are now throughout the U.S. So, Starbucks’ owners developed their mission to create community gathering places throughout the country and: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”
Developing a mission statement is where it all begins. The best mission statements are not driven from the top of the company down, but are developed through an inclusive, democratic process that culls input from everyone in the company (or as many people as is practical for companies that are already established and are going back to develop a mission later in the business lifecycle).
Once you have the necessary people in the room to talk about your mission, there are four basic questions that need to be answered collectively:
1. What is your company’s mission? In other words, how is your business going to define itself vis-à-vis your industry, your competitors, and your community (both internal and external to your business)?
2. How do you create an environment within your business in which all decisions move through the lens of this mission? In other words, how do you build your business (or re-invent your business) so that your mission is intrinsic to every aspect of your business and procedures are put into place to ensure that screening?
3. How do you implement changes in your business or next steps in your business’ development that further advance your overall mission?
4. How are you going to measure success against your mission? In other words, what are the desired outcomes and outputs that you are looking to achieve by being a purpose/mission-driven company?
One last note on mission development:
Purpose/mission driven organizations only succeed to reap the demonstrable and historical returns on investment if there is buy-in across all channels of workers. In developing an organization’s mission, sometimes it is hard for internal resources, sometimes siloed but often times very close to an organization’s operations, leadership, and history, to see the forest for the trees. Other times, junior or new workers invited to participate may be hesitant or reluctant to fully engage in the process, deferring instead to senior management. For these reasons, it is advisable to utilize outside facilitation to assist with this process.