You went into business for a reason. It was more than the money. You can make good money working for someone else. Let them take on all the risk and brain damage.
At some point, you felt you could do better if you did it yourself. So you opened up shop and got to work.
Soon enough, you discovered that the people you hired weren’t doing what you intended. From how they treated customers to how they approached the work. Some stuff worked out. Others did not.
Frustrated, you went about figuring out how to get everyone on the same page. In came the traditional vision, purpose, and mission statements. You posted core values on your wall, maybe a code of ethics, and eventually, the employee handbook.
Job done; you went about growing the business.
Then you heard John did something you didn’t like. Then Sally. And when Jeff left, you found a big ol’ mess you had to clean up.
Why didn’t they do as they were asked, you wonder?
So you doubled down on policies, procedures, processes, and plans. You ran performance reviews and meetings, and added in supervisors.
That’s when a bunch of people left.
Better jobs. More autonomy. More money. Then this “quiet quitting” nonsense. And now you can’t find anyone to work for under twenty bucks an hour, but the skill set and effort seem to fall uncomfortably short.
Why is it so hard nowadays?
I want you to know something really important. It’s not your fault.
With so much noise around how to do things “right,” you don’t know what right is anymore. If all the fluff you’ve heard was actually correct, wouldn’t it have worked by now?
For now, though, let’s go back to what matters. Your intentions.
If you want people to follow your intentions, you have a very difficult choice to make.
Trust me; this is going to be way harder than it sounds.
You’re going to have to choose between control and flexibility.
In your business, control is interchangeable with flexibility. This means you have to give up some of your control to provide flexibility. This is the basis of empowerment.
And the only way you can give up control is when you can trust your team to do as you intended them to do. Right?
What you potentially risk is all-out anarchy in your business. What you potentially gain, however, is unimaginable wealth. I’m speaking in extremes, of course, but since your mind went to anarchy so quickly, I had to balance things out with the alternate reality that is equally true.
So pooping out a bunch of unmemorable platitudes on a wall isn’t going to cut it after all. You’ve got real work to do if you expect your people to get behind you. To do as you intend.
First, we need to agree on a definition of terms.
Mission statements have been misinterpreted in business for generations. Heck, the US Military only put it into official doctrine in the 1970s. Even in the military, high-ranking military strategists have admitted they’ve been doing it wrong for decades.
See why it’s not your fault yet?
So let’s discuss how to get your mission statement right, instead.
Commander’s intent was first codified by the Germans when battling Napoleon’s armies during the French Revolution. In the time since, military scholars and strategists have tried to put it into a convenient box that retained control over their subordinates.
That didn’t work.
The Germans never perceived of it in this manner, though. To the Germans, it was a philosophy, not to be reduced to a simple set of linear procedures. German Leaders traded the misleading assurance of control of their men for intentional autonomy.
By creating a controlled environment of empowerment, their soldiers were able to be flexible with the situation at hand within the parameters of the Commander’s Intent.
Sales, like war, is wrought with ambiguity and uncertainty. Neither follows a linear process, no matter how hard we try as leaders to fit everything in a tidy, perfect box.
Like war, the sales process rarely survives first contact. Yet, the outcome is predictable. You either win or lose. Retreat or conquer.
When you started this business, you envisioned success (whatever that means to you). Then you added people, and things didn’t go as you intended.
The missing ingredient? A mission statement that matters.
Your customers are not your enemy. You are not fighting a battle. Your business is not at war. At the very least, I believe we should learn about the human condition from these atrocities.
Modern military strategists have learned that the success rate of a mission increases exponentially when they craft the correct mission statements for the situation at hand.
What used to be comprehensive plans that articulated what the mission was and each step as to how it would unfold is now replaced with much simpler communication.
Modern mission statements concisely articulate what is to happen for the mission to be deemed a success as it pertains to the purpose and vision.
In war, a mission is a single, short-term event. A mission does not encompass the whole campaign or war. In an organization that requires human beings to sell, a mission is each individual sales opportunity.
In war, a mission is not an external message to impress the enemy. In business, it is also an internally-focused message to give clear direction to our employees.
Do you see now why the traditional wisdom for mission statements in business is far more tradition than wisdom?
While your competitors externalize their mission statement in a thinly veiled attempt to establish trustworthiness, you do something infinitely more effective. You internalize your mission statement as it was always meant to be. You create a mission statement that guides your team to champion your intended intent.
Where to start?
I’ve done the work for you. After toiling in the weeds of this, I went about figuring out what things would result in the highest percentage of success.
<insert impressive amount of research here>
In business, the thing you are selling changes based on the buyer’s needs. The buyers differ too. But the universal truths about what lead to a sale do not.
After combing through thousands of businesses, I was able to categorize the data into three natural themes. Working backward from the sale’s close to the business owner’s intent, it became clear that these three themes were self-referential to the purpose and vision of the leader.
In short, that means it works (if you have the right purpose and vision).
Theme One: Helping People Win
People are the wildcard. Your life would be easy, but for the people, right? Companies with the greatest degree of success are conscious of ensuring that their people believe they came out on top.
What people? All people. It’s helping people win, not helping customers or employees win.
Fun fact — you are also a person.
Customers need to feel they have the better side of the deal. They deserve to be insulated from immoral behavior. In the processes and policies you develop. In the things you tolerate. In the ways you celebrate those who feed our families.
Your employees crave the better side of the deal too. In the policies you create. In the methods, you use to motivate and discipline. In how you compensate and even train those meant to represent your good name.
The great thing — when you help others, you help yourself. For the effort and risk, you get the better side of the deal; when you offer this to all your people. The ultimate karmic reward. Do unto others as others would prefer to be done unto. The platinum rule.
You have every right to happiness, health, and wealth as much as everyone else. By taking up the mantle of leader, the responsibility begins with you and those you choose to represent you. Your culture is a direct result of what you tolerate.
Theme Two: Trustworthiness
No surprise. Trust must be present for healthy long-term results to occur. Companies that tolerate untrustworthy behavior of their employees are just as likely to deceive those same employees. This creates an insidious flywheel of toxicity that always leads to an eventual breakpoint.
Trust is a fickle mistress, though. It has far more to do with perception than reality.
Trustworthiness is reflected in your policies, processes, inventory selection, pricing, training, hiring practices, comp plans, and even the KPIs you choose to use.
When you put people on 100% performance pay, you compromise your trustworthiness the moment you are unable to provide adequate lead volume. Every condition you place on a warranty, guarantee, or policy puts your integrity into question. Even the process you choose to enforce has an implication on perceived honesty.
I’m gonna call my shot right now.
Approximately half the people who read the last paragraph bristled at this harsh truth. Who am I to question your integrity, after all? The other half intuitively understands that they may not have fully truth-proofed their business yet.
When you shift your focus through this new lens, you start to see gaps everywhere.
The good news? These gaps are easy to fill, and when you lean into improving your culture, your changes act like rapidly expanding spray foam.
Theme Three: Gratitude
When you take time to think about what really makes us happy, you come to a fascinating realization. Happiness is forged in gratitude.
When I first heard this, to say I was skeptical is an understatement.
Gratitude is far more than casual praise, though.
Looking back at all the people who helped you get to where you are today, you likely feel overwhelmingly grateful. When you think fondly of your children, spouse, and other loved ones, it’s not the person that makes you grateful, but rather the experiences you’ve had with them that make you happy.
Even the situations we face daily are fed by gratitude. For example, you’re not happy to have a broken air conditioner, but you are happy when it’s fixed. It’s the gratitude for the repairman who showed you empathetic competence and quickly got your system back up and running that fed your happiness by removing your stress, anxiety, and frustration.
When you give detailed, authentic praise of a specific situation, you appeal to your employee’s desire for mastery. Mastery is one of the most powerful motivators that feed self-identity and worth. Done publicly, it also externally feeds their identity within the tribe they’ve self-selected to be a part of.
Gratitude is a powerful anchor to successful outcomes as it feeds happiness, mental health, and leads to and reinforces a thriving growth mindset.
When the US Military shifted leadership communication to mission-oriented command, they observed a meaningful increase in success rate. But it wasn’t without its failures.
When putting mission-oriented command to the test, they found some mission leaders had flawed tactical knowledge. They done messed up, A-a-ron!
Others had a low tolerance for situational uncertainty. They were compelled to micromanage out of fear. They would often stick to a rigid, linear process, even when faced with a non-linear situation that could have still been won.
Finally, they had mission commanders who simply didn’t buy in. These field commanders chose to do it their way, not how you intended. This incongruence eventually led to confusion, and good intentions turned bad.
A fish rots from the head down. If you are to ever attain exponential success toward your intended outcomes, your Leadership Team has to be obsessive about your vision, purpose, and mission.
Here are the most important lessons learned and what your Leaders should focus on:
- Clarity was essential. If everybody working in concert with each other didn’t understand the Commander’s intent from the mission statement, things went poorly.
- Commanders had to make a concerted effort to trust their team. Without trust, micromanagement crept in and screwed up the flow of the mission. Trust was infinitely easier to offer when people were well-trained.
- Commanders need to know and appreciate each person on their team intimately. When there was no connection to the team, they would inadvertently have fish climbing trees.
- Commanders must not lose the ability to synchronize events while keeping flexibility in place. The orchestra conductor cannot play every instrument and synchronize the cadence.
- Commanders are not in a position to save their soldiers. They are put out into the field with the appropriate tools and a clear directive. It is up to them to complete the mission, or die trying. Success was a direct result of the Commander’s ability to select, train, develop, then trust their people.
- Commanders must also clearly state what is not allowed. These are the Rules of Engagement (ROEs). In sales, for example, selling a customer something they did not need would be unacceptable.
What about my non-selling departments?
I argue that every department is a selling department. If not a good or service, an idea, solution, or plan. When you think about HR, payroll, installation, or inventory management, the mission never changes. You need to help your people win in a trustworthy and grateful manner as much as your people need to help customers win in a trustworthy and grateful manner. People mean all people.
Putting your mission statement to work the way you intended
The word Entrepreneur is French for making something unnecessarily more complicated than needed in an effort to call it your own. Are you an entrepreneur?
Or are you looking to make a meaningful difference with as little distraction as possible?
Simplifying your vision, purpose, and mission to principle-based universal truths feels counterintuitive to many business people who crave to make their own unique mark on the world.
The thing is, though, your list of attributes, traits, and ambitions hasn’t moved your business forward. They never will. Your version of what determines success comes from people who are entirely unqualified to make these assertations. The data you used to form your opinions was anecdotal, at best.
You put everything but the kitchen sink into your initiatives. And while it was a fun and motivating day of people feeling their voice was heard, it quickly disappeared into obscurity.
Life is hard. And noisy. That’s why we go through life employing a series of coping mechanisms. To survive. We reduce things to the simplest of terms to increase our processing power.
This is what you need to do with your mission statement.
By leveraging the following mission statement at every single level of your organization, you will be able to empower your employees to make the choices you intended from the start.
Your mission, Jim, if you choose to take it…
When there is an ethical sale to be made, we close the sale
by helping people win in a trustworthy and grateful manner together.
This blog will self-destruct in 30 seconds.
Thank you for your bravery.