Originally published on the Vistage Research Center
Most employees want to do the right thing. They want their company to succeed. But even the best employees with the best intentions need to know where to go. Without direction, there’s a lot of noise that can keep your employees – and ultimately, your company – from getting ahead.
Kill the static. Follow these steps to connect your employees with a clear mission, guided by a strong vision and values.
1. Develop your mission
Your mission is your company’s purpose. It’s why you do what you do. And it should stand the test of time.
But that doesn’t mean it has to be boring or basic. In fact, the best mission statements are inspiring and help rally employees around a common good.
As you develop your mission statement, consider what makes your company unique. Is it the quality of your product or service? Communication? Fairness? Community involvement?
When you incorporate these elements into your mission statement, it says that in every way that you approach the market, this is where your organization places value.
Consider Starbuck’s mission statement: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”
Notice, its mission isn’t to sell the most coffee or even to make the best coffee – it’s more ambitious than that. Instead, its mission is to develop a human connection with customers through coffee. And that’s something that its employees can get behind.
Employees will always do what they think is best according to what they think leaders want. If you tell them what you want, it focuses their behavior as intended. In the case of Starbucks, the mission statement helps to focus employees on creating a great customer experience – above all else.
2. Narrow in on your vision
Vision and mission statements are often confused. While the mission statement is broad and lofty, the vision statement narrows it down.
What’s the strategic direction? What do you want to accomplish? What are the goals? Where do you want to be in the future – and by what date?
A vision statement is how to accomplish the mission. It’s measurable.
For example, “Toyota will lead the way of the future of mobility, enriching lives around the world with the safest and most responsible ways of moving people.”
Your vision should make it easy to explain business decisions to employees. In Toyota’s case, the vision could help clarify to employees why they’re making a product a certain way (to keep it safe and be responsible) or why a quick turnaround is needed (to lead the way in their industry).
However, understand that, unlike the mission, a vision statement can waiver over time. Leaders must continuously revisit it to ensure it still makes sense.
3. Articulate your values
Much like your vision supports your mission, cultural values help you achieve your vision.
For example, a good value statement might say, “It’s ok to disagree. It’s not ok to be disagreeable.” This particular type of value tells employees that you want and need their opinion, but that you also want them to be respectful.
Concrete cultural values define behavioral expectations. They explain how the company expects the individual employee to work.
With your company’s values as their compass, employees will naturally work toward the company mission and vision. Over time, they’ll develop healthy and productive methodologies for achieving their individual goals.
4. Align your employees
Have you ever seen a marching band perform? The band looks to the drum major at the top waving the baton. This helps the band to see what direction they should be moving so they can create the right formation on the field.
Your mission, vision and values are the baton for your company. As long as employees can see the baton, they can march in the same direction and organize the way you intended.
If a company doesn’t align itself with its mission, some employees will work toward one thing while other employees are working toward another. For example, the manufacturing team might buy a new, expensive machine for a new product while the mission and vision are geared toward a different, existing product. This type of misalignment can cause your company to lose valuable capital – from both the productivity of your people and the actual cost associated with the mistake.
Senior leaders are your keepers of the baton. They must be accountable for making sure employees’ work continues to support the mission and vision day after day. As it trickles down, the accounting team’s part will be different than the service team’s part. But each team needs to know what their share is and why it’s important so they can make appropriate decisions.
5. Keep it top of mind
Once you’ve rolled out your new mission, vision and values, how can you keep them front and center? Here are a few ideas worth considering:
Ask questions about mission, vision and values in a climate survey to see where your staff stands. For example, include questions like “Do you know what the company’s mission is?” Or, “Do you know how you contribute to the company’s mission?” to get started. If you find that your employees’ answers are inconsistent or inaccurate, you’ll need to help them better understand how to contribute.
When a company outlines its mission, everything and everyone begins to head in the same direction. It becomes easier to spot what’s working and what isn’t – you begin to see outliers. For example, say a new program is having issues. Ask: Is this something we need to reach our mission? If it’s not, it may not be something to focus on at this time. It could be put on the to-do list for later.
To keep employees engaged, regularly share news about how the company is striving to reach the mission and vision. Not only is a well-informed workplace much happier and more productive, but this also helps the entire organization keep an eye on the prize.
Managers should meet employees where they are. By analyzing what the employee does, and how he or she helps achieve the company’s mission and vision, managers can make it more relevant to the individual. Employees who clearly understand their piece of the pie find more meaning in their work and stay more engaged.
Regular meetings with direct reports
Weekly or monthly meetings help managers develop a good relationship with their direct reports. These meetings also help ensure an employee isn’t out of alignment for months before it’s discovered.
When difficult conversations have to occur, look to the company’s mission or vision to steer your talk. For example, in a manufacturing environment, you might say: “Our mission revolves around quality, and people trust that about us. This week, there were several instances of poor quality products being put out there. Not only does this not meet our standard, but you have to understand the message this sends our customers.” Sometimes you have the wrong person in the job, and other times, an employee just needs to have it brought to their attention.
Skip level meetings
As companies get larger, messages can occasionally get lost in translation. Skip level interviews – where employees meet with their boss’s boss – can help ensure the messages are being passed down the chain effectively.
Keep employees aware of how they’re doing, and reward them for good work. For example, if client retention is important, it might mean rewarding an employee who did everything they could in a difficult situation to keep a client happy. Make sure rewards are linked to the mission and vision.