The power of a company mission statement:
How to get teams working in harmony toward the same goal.
We need to get it together
Have you ever experienced this before?
The CEO has finished a rousing motivational speech at an all-hands meeting. He has set ambitious goals for both revenue and new users in the next quarter. How to reach these goals? Everyone has an idea.
The Product Manager thinks feature X will have the most impact.
Marketing believes this is a mandate to pursue strategy Y.
The CEO wants feature Z.
You could keep moving through the other parts of your org — Support, Ops, etc all with thoughts about what they should be doing to create value and have a positive impact on the success of your product.
But here is the key. Creating a successful product is the result of an entire organization collaboratively working toward the same goal. This seems like an easy thing to do but as individuals we bring our personalities and biases into every situation we encounter. My point is that getting the kind of alignment necessary to create success isn’t easy. This is where (among other things) our mission statement comes into play.
The mission statement serves many purposes. It’s a rallying cry. An inspirational message to put on the walls. It can set the tone for company culture. But for me the most important function of a mission statement is to guide decision making.
At Halo we were having too many experiences similar to what I described at the opening of this article. A lack of alignment over strategic direction and prioritization. This is our journey to a mission statement.
In “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath they introduced an idea that resonated when thinking about the role and value of a mission statement. It’s a concept used in the Military called Commander’s Intent. Instead of a detailed “plan” — which is so specific that it can’t account for contingencies that are sure to arise, leaders use Commander’s Intent:
“At the high level it is abstract. At the tactical level it becomes more concrete. CI never specifies so much detail that it risks being rendered obsolete by unpredictable events. You can lose the ability to execute the original plan, but you never lose the responsibility of executing the intent. Commander’s Intent manages to align the behavior of soldiers at all levels without requiring play by play instructions from their leaders. When people know the desired destination they’re free to improvise as needed in arriving there.”
“…Align the behavior of soldiers at all levels without requiring play by play instructions from their leaders.”
That was an aha moment! When everyone in the organization has a clear idea of what we’re trying to achieve (without micromanagement from above), then we can work together toward that goal. This is what we wanted our mission statement to help us accomplish.
With this in mind I led a cross functional team to work on the Halo Neuroscience mission statement.
Finding our Why
I’ve always connected with Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” . Sinek says all organizations know What they do (the product or service they offer). Some organizations know How they do it (this would be a value proposition). Sinek’s point is that very few know Why they do what they do.
He believes most marketing messages are structured this way. Starting with what we do, then how we do it. He uses Apple as an example: “We make computers. They are beautifully designed and user friendly”. And this is where it ends for most companies.
But what Apple actually says is: “At Apple we believe in challenging the status quo by thinking different. We enable this by creating products that are beautifully designed and user friendly. We happen to make computers.” When we start with Why, we give our users as well as our internal teams something to get excited about.
The Why is not a result (profit is a result). The Why is something you believe in, something that gets you out of bed in the morning.
Doing the work
Our raw materials were the 3 principles the founders had started the company on:
Performance — A belief in the ability of everyone to be their very best.
Science — The company was built on a high standard of scientific integrity, and everything we did moving forward should be held to that standard.
Humanity — We are relatable. We were building products based on complex science, but our voice should make the complex accessible to everyone.
Looking at those principles we knew our “Why” was in there. We ran a team workshop to dig deeper and some ideas started to come together:
In everything we do we believe:
- Human performance has the power to change the world, whether it’s the world at-large or the subjective world within each of us.
- By boosting the brain’s ability to do what it already does, Halo Neuroscience empowers individuals worldwide to make the most of their world/the world.
- We believe in the inalienable human right to make the most of your world.
- Human performance has the power to change the world.
The way we do it is by:
- Creating elegantly-designed, user-friendly consumer products that provide scientifically-validated brain stimulation through cutting-edge neurotechnology.
- Bringing the most forward-thinking, scientifically-validated technology right to you in a package that looks and feels familiar.
Coming out of this exercise the idea behind our mission statement was starting to crystallize. What felt great, was that we knew it instinctively! We all joined this company because we were excited by the idea of being able to improve human performance. That was the Why and it felt like a powerful one. There was an “A-Ha moment” that we only realized by going through this process. To refine these ideas we brought in the founders and distilled the broader ideas down to our mission statement:
Our mission is to champion human potential.
Through scientific rigor, uncompromising engineering, and user-centric design,
we create life-changing neurotechnology to prime greatness in us all.
Our Why is clearly stated. Champion human potential. How we do it is stated in the second line and also clarifies our values (rigor, uncompromising, user-centric). Finally, What we make is life-changing neurotechnology. The result is indeed a rallying cry that we could put on the wall. More important, this has helped guide decision making and creating alignment within the company. Of course it isn’t always black and white when you get to a granular level. But in most cases when someone gets to a fork in the road, whether it’s a marketing message, a product feature decision, code implementation or customer support, they can look at our mission and it helps guide what they willvdo next.
Now we keep it alive. It becomes easy to go through a process like this and become excited about what the team has created. But then within a couple of weeks as deadlines loom and meetings pile up people start to forget the “Why” and they are scrambling just to get things done. To combat this we’ve tried a few things:
- Display it: As I mentioned we did put it on the wall. This keeps it top of mind for everyone as they come into work every day.
- Ambassadors: Informally finding a specific person on each team to be a mission statement “ambassador.” Someone who can help teams use the mission statement in their decision making process.
- Distribute it: From the brand guidelines to the website, to the company slide deck template, the mission becomes exposed to the whole team every day.
There are no silver bullets or overnight successes, but the results have been encouraging. When an engineer references the mission statement while discussing requirements, or when it frames a discussion around marketing efforts, these are the small changes that show our success.