A (Non-Bogus) Mission Statement: Words That Build Great Corporate Cultures
A company’s culture can begin with words—with a guiding or core or mission statement—but only if there’s actually an idea behind those words. It should represent a decision, something you (not just your consultants) actually stand for, expressed in the clearest and fewest words you can manage.
Avoid something like this verbose mission statement I found in the closet of a defunct company, discarded there no doubt within days of the brainstorming session that created it:
We will be the supreme total quality, customer-oriented supplier to our industry of all our industry-related products while facilitating extraordinary growth and sustainable profitability at cutting-edge standards.
Try something more like this, the Motto of the culture-rich Ritz-Carton:
We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.
Or this, the central philosophy of their archrival Four Seasons Hotels And Resorts:
In all our interactions with our guests, customers, business associates, and colleagues, we seek to deal with others as we would have them deal with us.
Where should such a core cultural statement come from? The two examples I’ve given come from strong leaders, but at disparate points in their careers and in the history of their organizations. In the first example, this statement formed the personal philosophy from the time he was very young of the man who would become Ritz-Carlton’s founding Chief Operating Officer. He was therefore able to bake it into the very beginning of the Ritz-Carlton’s organizational history. (It was, in fact, the topic sentence of an essay he wrote at age fourteen.)
The best time to start? Now.
This kind of deep history leading to an inspirational company launch is ideal but not necessary. If your company fails to have such a storied birth, don’t worry. While the example from the Ritz came from a fourteen-year-old future leader who wouldn’t have his own company to captain for decades, the Four Seasons example came from a set of principles that weren’t defined at Four Seasons until many years into the organization’s existence, yet these words formed a dramatic turning point for the company that has continued to this day.
You should take heart in this belated transformation. If your company started as a scrappy venture and cut corners in the culture department at first (the now illustrious Four Seasons was initially a rather seat-of-the-pants operation called Four Seasons Motor Lodge, if you can imagine that!), there’s no better time to start consciously building a culture than now.
Beyond your core statement
Beyond your core statement (your central organizing idea, such as Four Seasons’ ‘‘In all our interactions . . . we seek to deal with others as we would have them deal with us’’), you’ll need a bit more development and clarification to make these words more than a slogan. Do this by defining key principles in the areas that are most relevant to your business, to the people who work for it and with it, and to whom it caters.
Again, brevity leads to memorability. Zappos started this process with twenty-nine core values, ultimately ending up with ten. Four Seasons, appropriately, has four, which include a brief paragraph in each of the following areas:
1. Who we are
2. How we behave
3. What we believe
4. How we succeed
The Ritz-Carlton augments its ‘‘Motto’’ (‘‘We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen’’) with a three-sentence ‘‘Credo’’ and a three-sentence ‘‘Employee Promise ’’ covering the principles of how to treat guests and coworkers. In each case, these lists of values
Spelling out how you’ll treat customers, vendors, and employees
Express EXPR +1.06% clearly for the record how you intend to treat people in your business dealings. That way, everything you do can be benchmarked against the standard you set, and your culture, as a consequence, can be molded and strengthened. Lay out in your core values how you want customers, employees, and vendors to be treated. Say it clearly: If your opinion is that employees and vendors should be treated as you would like to be treated, write that down. If there are specific ways you want customers to feel when interacting with your company—for example, if you want to give them a memorable, enjoyable, and safe experience where even their unexpressed desires are realized—write that down.
One way to think through the areas you want to cover, and why:
1. An employee focus dramatically affects customers. Only appropriately treated, motivated, empowered, growing employees will consistently give a great experience to customers.
2. A vendor focus also affects customers. Only appropriately treated vendors, acting as true partners, can come through for your customers in times of need.
3. Finally, an obsessive customer focus, realized through your employees and vendors, becomes the icing on the cake. Articulate all these, and then get ready to live them. It’s the best way to start building sustainable customer service results that will, in turn, sustain your company.
Editor’s Note: This article is by Forbes Magazine. It was originally published at www.forbes.com.
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