How many of you work for a company with a mission statement and operating principles that are “boilerplate,” don’t inspire your employees and don’t differentiate your company from its competitors? Does your company live by its mission statement, or operate by a different set of cultural norms and values? This issue will become increasingly important as more millennials join your company and rise through the leadership ranks.
There has been much written about how to motivate and inspire millennial employees, broadly defined as those born between 1980 and 1995. In the Nov. 25 issue of The Wall Street Journal, Punit Renjen, CEO of Deloite Touche Tohmatsu Ltd. wrote an article headlined, “What Millennials Expect From Employers.”
In his article, Renjen talks about the results of a 2015 Deloite survey of 7,800 millennials across 29 countries. The results of the survey indicate that “the majority [of millennials] believe that business needs to reset its purpose. While they believe the pursuit of profit is important to sustaining a business, millennials also say that pursuit must be accompanied by a sense of purpose, through efforts to create innovative products or services, and, above all, by viewing employees as members of society. In fact, 75 percent say businesses are too focused on their own agendas and not focused enough on improving society.”
Pursuit of profit is not the mission of a company, but only a measure of how well a company achieves its mission. A business needs to communicate its purpose or mission in terms of how it treats its employees and what it does for its customers, clients or society.
In a blog published May 1, 2014 titled, “What great brands do with mission statements …,” Christine B. Whitmore of Simple Marketing Now LLC states, “I find [mission statements] boring beyond belief – so full of gobbledygook and hot air to be almost useless and definitely boring, uninspiring, unintelligible…”
Whitmore states that “great brands waste no opportunity to share what they believe in. They consistently communicate what they are about. … These are businesses which practice what they preach and generate fierce loyalty internally from associates who believe fiercely in the mission and help define the culture. These businesses consistently focus on customers and delivering remarkable experiences.”
Whitmore shared the mission statements of some of the most iconic companies in the world. For example, Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Amazon’s mission is “to be the Earth’s most customer-centric company where people can find and discover anything they want to buy online.” The mission of Zappos, another leading online retailer and an independently operated subsidiary of Amazon, is “to provide the best customer service possible.” Quoting from Zappos’ website, “We hope to see a day when all organizations realize they can have a successful and profitable business where their employees love coming to work, are happy and engaged, and whose customers are raving fans.” This is the Holy Grail of any company!
The more effective companies are in creating, communicating and achieving their missions, the more likely they will increase shareholder return. A company needs to communicate its mission in meaningful terms, not only to motivate and inspire millennials, but all employees. This is especially the case for global companies, where the mission statement and operating principles communicate a consistent set of cultural norms, values and behaviors by the company across all of its operations.
How does a company create an effective mission statement and set of operating principles? Both must reflect the values of the CEO and the senior leadership team, who must live by them every day. Employees need to develop a sense of ownership in them. The way to achieve this is to invite a number of employees throughout the organization to participate in their development. After their adoption, the CEO and senior leadership team must present the company’s mission and operating principles to all employees in a series of town meetings, and “operationalize” the role that employees play in implementing them.
Shortly after I was appointed CEO of PQ Corporation, we went through the process of developing our mission statement and operating principles, one of which stated that “we will help our customers be successful in their businesses.” This established our expectation of how our customers throughout the world would be treated, from the sales rep who called on the customer, to the customer service employee who took the customer’s order and to the technical service expert who helped our customer effectively use our products. Providing a great customer experience helped differentiate PQ from its competitors and build market share.
Just prior to presenting our newly developed mission statement and operating principles to the PQ board, I realized that no hourly employee had input into their development. So we went to our Gurney, Illinois plant outside of Chicago and presented both to them. One of the plant’s mechanics suggested a change in one of the operating principles. The change was fundamental to how we were operating, but we inadvertently had failed to include it. The change was included – valuable input from an hourly employee.
Today, many years later, I still think about the value of obtaining input from hourly employees. I think about how helping to create a sense of ownership in our mission and operating principles rallied employees at all organizational levels around a PQ corporate culture in which our employees were proud to work, and helped our company become the global preferred provider of products within our markets.
CEOs, think about the mission statement of your company. Does it communicate your company’s cultural norms and values? Do you live by it? Does it inspire your employees and resonate with your customers or clients? If not, creating a new mission statement that accomplishes these things will have a positive impact on the success of your business.
About the author
Stan Silverman is a speaker, writer and advisor who focuses on helping businesses and organizations cultivate leadership cultures. He currently is a Leadership Catalyst for Tier 1 Group, a firm of strategists and advisors for preeminent growth. Stan is also Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Drexel University, a lead director on the board of Drummond Scientific and and serves on the board of Ben Franklin Technology Partners. He is the former president and CEO of PQ Corporation. Stan can be reached by email or at his website: www.SilvermanLeadership.com.