As a leader, you know your company’s mission and you believe it’s good, but do all of your team members feel the same way?
I’ve worked for companies where employees tattoo parts of the mission on their bodies (seriously) and for others where they roll their eyes at it then get back to work.
Maybe you don’t need your team to brand themselves, but you at least want your mission to positively affect morale.
After all, nearly every business article or book will advise that having a clear mission that your team can get behind is integral to lasting success.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, researcher and author of Flow and Good Business, advises that understanding the ultimate goal is essential to helping people get into what he has termed the flow state, a mode where one is not only operating adeptly but happily.
After nearly 15 years as a communications professional with a passion for purpose in the workplace, six key things stand out as ways you can improve your team’s connection with the company mission, thus improving both performance and happiness.
1. Mean It.
Patagonia recently released an updated and more succinct mission statement: “We’re in business to save our home planet.”
Anyone who knows a thing or two about the company and its founder will nod along with that statement and say, “Yup, totally.”
Patagonia CEO Yvon Chouinard saw what chemicals from industrially grown cotton were doing to the environment and, in an instant, he decided to switch to organic cotton. This was going to cost more, obviously, but the company mission to save the planet was more important to him than the bottom line.
Are you willing to go to bat for your mission? If your mission has to do with improving people’s lives, will you accept occasional financial sacrifice to ensure that happens? If not, then it’s not really your mission. Employees will know it, and no amount of messaging or repetition will overcome the fact that it’s not an authentic, inexorable truth.
Do people nod along and say, “Yup, totally,” when they hear your mission? If not, you may have some work to do.
2. Clarify It.
As mentioned above, people are only able to get into the flow state, the peak of productivity and happiness, when they have a clear understanding of the goal. If the mission leaves room for questions or is open to multiple interpretations, clarify it throughout all levels of the organization, to ensure everyone understands exactly what the company aims to be and accomplish.
3. Invigorate it.
Anita Roddick, British businesswoman and founder of the Body Shop, talked about the importance of communication that is not only clear but passionate:
“No matter how passionate you feel about something, if you can’t communicate it in an enlivening or entertaining way, and if you can’t have a passion, which is the most persuasive form in communication, you might as well just not be there. I’ve watched so many people with such good intent, and they flounder. They just have no knowledge. It’s an art. It is a definite art, a skill.”
Imagine William Wallace of Braveheart saying his signature line in monotone, arms held straight down by his sides. “They may take away our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom.”
Even great words and a great mission will fall flat without authentic passion and energy behind them.
4. Narrate It.
Some CEOs shy away from talking about their own personal story or what the mission means to them because they don’t want to appear narcissistic or put themselves in the spotlight.
But your team wants to hear from you! They want to hear an anecdote about your grandma who gave you this crazy idea to start a business. They want to hear how you started to have doubts at one point but found new insights while lost on a hike.
People like a good story, particularly one told with honesty and humility. I guarantee you won’t be perceived as an egoist if you approach your storytelling with those key qualities.
5. Relate it.
Imagine a team member at any level of your organization picking up your mission statement and reading it aloud with “I am inspired . . .” at the beginning.
Let’s try it with a few successful mission statements:
- Life is Good: I am inspired to spread the power of optimism!
- TED: I am inspired to spread ideas!
- Tesla: I am inspired to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy!
If you insert your mission and it sounds like, “I am inspired to offer consumers unparalleled products and an online shopping experience that will improve their quality of life,” you need to re-work it.
Your intentions are good, but the example above lacks relatability. If you make your mission something that an individual could also proudly declare as their own personal mission, it will be more motivating and more memorable.
6. Re-Write It.
If your existing mission doesn’t lend itself to all of the above, if you find yourself having a hard time speaking about it with passion or clarity, then it might be time for a total re-write. And that’s okay.
Even if you’ve had the same mission for ten years. Even if you’ve gotten far with it. Even if you don’t yet know what would work better.
Open yourself up to the possibility that you can go even farther and become even stronger as a company if you come up with a mission that facilitates all of the above.
If it’s genuine, clear, passionate and relatable, it will be the light that employees look to when mired in a difficult project or questioning their purpose. It will be something that inspires them to say, inside themselves, “This job is worth it. I want to be here.”
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Good Business. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
About the Author
Erin Zelinka is a Corporate Communications Specialist for a Fortune 500 company and has published articles on travel, lifestyle, parenting, community, and business. www.erinzelinka.com. @WriterOnTheRoad