The business world is a different animal than it was 20 or 30 years ago, and for the most part that’s a very good thing. Corporate social responsibility has become a buzz phrase, and many large companies are rising and falling in relation to the way that they treat both their employees and their customers. Transparency in business dealings and listening to the wants and needs of its clients are the path to success for companies today.
As modern executives and owners create their mission and vision statements, it is plain to see that more and more are doing so with a sense of purpose beyond profits. Not that profits should be kicked to the wayside, of course. It is the profits that allow the business to survive, thrive, and fulfill that “other-than-profit” purpose.
The means to that end is what is changing, and the end itself is expanding in scope. Whereas the philosophy in the past for many may have been “make a buck however you can”, today that philosophy has become – as Google’s now-famous motto espoused – “Don’t be evil.” This is better stated in number six of the search giant’s ten-point company philosophy, “You can make money without doing evil.”
The idea of “doing the right thing” in business has grown well past the point of this statement, however. Now businesses that are succeeding are including their customers in their vision, and the best of these consider every living human their customer.
Offer a cup of hope
There is no doubt that Starbucks has been one of the most well-regarded companies in the last decade for this attitude, and their mission statement makes it clear: to inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time. There is nothing in this statement that refers to selling (directly), profits, or being the best or biggest coffee company in the world.
Starbucks’ mission statement is inclusive of every human being. “The human spirit” is hardly a niche. It is practically impossible to read this and not think that they are working for you to make your world better, and that is exactly the kind of shared vision that will continue to propel some companies forward ahead of others. This sort of attitude can’t begin at the macro level, however, and it can’t develop in the mind of a solitary leader.
In order to create an inclusive vision that will draw others in, you have to first draw others in to create an inclusive vision. The CEO who declares that he has a new vision for the company and that everyone should get on board with him is not likely to garner a massive push from the employees. Often, those “in charge” think that because they’ve come up with a good idea, the rank and file should fall in and support it. But what if others don’t think it’s that great of an idea?
Understand the difference
Value and values are not the same thing. The former refers to quality, price, need, or want in relation to the consumer of the product or service you offer. The latter defines the meaning of existence for the business. Why do you do what you do? What do you hope to achieve? What is the bedrock of belief for your company? If the answer to these questions is strictly money-driven, you probably won’t survive long in the new era.
There is also a difference between doing something for someone and doing it with them. The best of intentions will not automatically ensure acceptance or engagement from others. If your goal is to make a better life for someone but they don’t perceive your vision the way that you do, the miscommunication of your vision creates a wall that is tough to breach.
For a great example of the old school of thought versus the new, see this article that contrasts the mission statements of Zappos and Foot Locker.
You may be asking “So what do I do?”, and if so I’m glad you are. Asking questions is the first signal of true interest, and it’s where you can start when developing your newly-molded purpose. Before you can engage the world, you have to engage your employees and/or partners.
A speech is less effective than a brainstorming session. Beginning this journey should involve a meeting of the minds with the leaders in your company and with trusted leaders outside of your company who either have an interest in your success or who have experience in organizational transformation (or ideally both).
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t have an idea of where you want to go, because you can’t start without one, but you should be flexible enough to accept criticism of your ideas and willing to incorporate those of others if they are a good fit. Two minds are better than one, and a room full of good minds in harmony is unstoppable. Harmony is the key word there.
Keep in mind that you won’t have a solid answer or direction after a two-hour meeting. If you think you do, start over. There are no shortcuts in succeeding the right way, and you have to let the process play out over time while keeping the momentum behind it.
Before you ever think about taking a new vision to the rest of the company, get consensus from your leadership and advisors. Remember that consensus doesn’t mean 100% approval of every point from every person; it means that enough people can agree on enough pieces that there is universal backing for the vision as a whole.
Taking it to the streets
Only after you have conquered these first obstacles can you successfully move forward to conquer the rest of the world. The process has to then go company-wide, and finally to the world at large.
Keep in mind that a vision that is worth pursuing will probably require a good bit of organizational transformation, and that in itself is often a long-term and difficult process. In the end the result is worth the effort, the inconveniences, and the unexpected obstacles that will come up in the process.
A shared vision ultimately means that your employees, clients, and future clients (everyone who is breathing, remember?) can and will buy in. Just like with any new adventure, there are lots of valleys and rivers to cross before you get to the mountaintop, and a team will always fare better than a single pioneer. Start by building that team vision.