While he was visiting NASA, President Kennedy, came across a janitor working his shift. The President stopped him and asked him what he was doing. The janitor replied, “Well Sir, I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”
The year was 1962 and the United States and Soviet Union were in a heated race to be the first to put a man on the moon. The journey was tough and unforgiving. The first mission in 1967, Apollo 1, ended with the death of the crew. By 1969 and after five failed missions, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first to step on the moon and return safely. These missions required an incredible amount of dedication, passion, and focus from every level of the organization. As a result, the ultimate mission, to put a man on the moon, was met successfully and history was made. What’s interesting is that NASA’s purpose and mission are the same then as they are today:
Their Purpose: Reveal the unknown
Their Mission: To put a man in space
From the janitor to the head of mission controls, everybody lived and breathed the organization’s mission and collectively they were able to push through and manage the many heartbreaking setbacks they experienced. Imagine if more organizations today were just as passionate and connected with their purpose and mission. We’d argue that the failure rate for startups would probably drop dramatically.
So, how do you define the purpose and mission for your organization and deliver them in such a way that every member of the team lives them, no matter what. Recently, I was in a Business Story Generator Canvas session and we had a debate about the role of mission, vision and values statements. The only thing we all agreed on was, once those statements were FINALLY created after a long, arduous process, those suckers were parked in a business plan or pasted on the ‘About Us’ page on a website. When we’ve asked teams, ‘Why do you exist?’ folks would either shuffle, chuckle or recall some version of their mission that ‘kind-a’, ‘sort-a’ conveyed the original. In other words, nobody really understood why their organizations existed. Consequently, these groups would then wonder why they were experiencing a lack momentum or were seen as irrelevant. When an organization isn’t connected to and driven by its mission and purpose, there are real consequences. According to a Gallup and Deloitte study, organizations that are not mission-driven experience:
- Lack of ownership (folks are waiting for someone to tell them what to do next)
- Lack of loyalty (folks are always on the lookout for what’s next)
- Lack of fuel and passion to meet future goals (folks doing the bare minimum)
Let’s look at your organization. If any or all of the factors above are in play within your organization, how on earth can you expect your target markets to be enthusiastic and put their trust in what you have to offer?
Here’s how we see it:
- The Mission Statement describes why you exist
- The Vision Statement describes what you hope to accomplish
- The Values Statement describes what you stand for
We believe that the Mission, Vision and Value statements work together to create a baseline from which the organization can grow. According to the same Gallup study referenced earlier, these statements are your organization’s most underused assets. We also believe that these assets represent a gold mine for micro-content that can be used to build compelling narratives that clearly conveys the Purpose. But, guess what? Defining the purpose isn’t enough. You also need to dig further to uncover your unique competitive advantage. Yes, folks want to know ‘Why do you exist?’ BUT why not inspire them further by articulating: ‘Why you are the one to do what you do.’ Pushing every boundary to take your purpose and dig deeper to capture why what you do is unique, will allow you to finally establish your Competitive Advantage. From there, keep going! Rock that advantage across your entire operation.
Simple, right? Not so fast.
In an interview with Inc. magazine, Deloitte chairman Punit Renjen said that articulating and communicating your purpose isn’t as easy as it sounds. “You have to really understand the essence of why you exist,” he says. “In addition to crafting a mission statement, it also involves embedding the purpose into the entire organization.” Chris Groscurth from Gallup also shared research comparing the performance levels of companies who were mission driven and those who were not. What he found was:
- Mission drives loyalty across generations. Understanding a company’s purpose helps employees answer yes to the question “Do I belong here?” Gallup’s research shows that ensuring employees have opportunities to do what they do best every day and emphasizing mission and purpose are the two strongest factors for retaining Millennials, Generation Xers, and Baby Boomers. More than one in four Millennials strongly agree with the statement “If the job market improves in the next 12 months, I will look for a job with a different organization.” This makes it more important than ever to focus on strengths and mission to drive down the cost of turnover and prevent the loss of key employees, especially among Millennials.
- Mission fosters customer engagement. A strong mission promotes brand differentiation, consumer passion, and brand engagement. Unfortunately, only about four in 10 employees (41%) know what their company stands for and what makes its brand different from its competitors’. This lack of brand awareness is not a marketing problem; it is a mission-driven leadership and management problem.
- Mission improves strategic alignment. Alignment begins with a clear purpose — the what and why of the organization. How, who, when, and where are secondary to the enterprise’s reason for existing. Mission can help leaders establish and balance priorities, set performance goals, and align rewards and compensation at all levels. If your company’s mission includes a promise to provide world-class customer service, for example, then you should define and measure “world-class” service — and hire employees who can deliver on that promise.
- Mission brings clarity. Awareness of mission guides decision making and judgment. A clear sense of what matters most helps leaders determine the best path for the company and helps them set priorities. This clarity inspires conviction and dedication.
- Mission can be measured. To maximize the value of mission and purpose, leaders need a reliable assessment of employees’ attitudes about their work and how it connects with the company’s purpose. Leaders and managers should use this information to guide them as they tackle the challenge of helping employees connect their work behaviors to the company’s ultimate purpose.
Mission-driven leadership comes from the heart. It requires talent and guts. A solid mission and clear purpose put a man on the moon. What can a clearly defined and executed mission and purpose do for your organization? Yes, it’s hard work but the payoffs are truly remarkable. You just have to decide whether you’re going to be a company that has a mission and lives or lives its mission and leads.