Your employees know how to do their jobs. Great!
Now do they know why they do their jobs?
Is it for a paycheck? Is it to help you make money? While practical, these goals aren’t particularly motivational (especially for millennials).
Your employees crave meaning—purpose, direction, and a moral compass.
When employees find meaning at work, they’re more likely to find satisfaction, enjoyment, and the motivation to go the extra mile.
In many ways, showing your employees how their work is meaningful can have a greater impact than boosting their salaries!
How to Give Purpose to Your Employees
Would you rather spend 5+ years of your life “increasing shareholder value” or “capturing and sharing the world’s moments”?
Of course you want your company to increase shareholder value. But you and your employees need to see a bigger picture of how you make people’s lives better. When you improve lives (and you run your business efficiently), profit should follow.
With that in mind, here are 4 steps to imbuing your company and employees with purpose.
- Define your company’s guiding beliefs—its mission, vision, and values.
- Show your employees how their work fits in.
- Integrate the beliefs into your company’s culture.
- Update your mission, vision, and values when needed.
Your mission describes what your company does, who you serve, and how you help your customers. A good mission suggests what makes your company special and helps to rally your employees around a common purpose.
Your vision defines what you’re striving to make possible—the problems you’re solving, and the changes you’re driving. A good vision is specific enough that you can break it down into key performance indicators, and then consistently measure results. To develop your vision for your company, check out our free 3-year vision worksheet.
Your values define the beliefs and ethics your team members uphold when making decisions and interacting with coworkers, customers, and shareholders. Strong values help your employees fulfill your company’s mission and achieve its vision.
What is the difference between a mission and vision?
Your vision states where you’re going and your mission states how you plan to get there. While the vision is often focused and prone to change, a mission can be loftier and more timeless.
More important than forming a perfect distinction is that, between the two statements, you define who your company is and what it’s aiming to achieve.
Step 1: Define Your Company’s Guiding Beliefs
If you haven’t written down your company’s guiding beliefs, try writing a first draft.
Think back to why you first got into your business. Who did you want to help? What did you want to help them do?
You’ll likely find that your mission and vision statements reflect your personal passions and beliefs, and your company’s values reflect your own.
The best mission and vision statements are concise and from the heart. If you spend too long think about them, you might end up with stuffy statements that don’t ring true.
Disney’s original mission statement was simply: “To make people happy.” This mission reminded all employees what they came to work to do, and whenever company leaders had to make decisions, they could find guidance by asking themselves, “will this make people happy?”
Brevity is important so that you can easily remember and convey your company’s guiding beliefs. Later you might choose to write an expanded version of your mission, vision and values, but for now, just write a 1-sentence mission and 1-sentence vision, and then list your values as bullet points.
Before you share your ideas, ask your employees:
- What they think the purpose of the company should be (mission)
- What they’d like to work toward (vision)
- What standards they want to uphold while accomplishing their work (values)
After you listen to your team’s thoughts, share what you wrote, and then work toward arriving at a consensus.
To give you inspiration, we put together a list of 15 company missions, visions, and values from companies like Amazon, IKEA, and Warby Parker.
Action Step: Set a timer for one hour and write the first draft of your mission, vision, and values. Don’t be afraid to start! You can always update these later.
Step 2: Show Your Employees How Their Work Fits In
When you hire a new employee, explain to them your company’s guiding beliefs. Make it come alive by explaining how their role is needed to accomplish the mission, how their daily tasks fit into achieving the vision, and how the company values will help them do their job.
It’s important to emphasize to employees that they should never violate the company’s values in order to achieve objectives. If there appears to be a conflict, employees should ask a company leader for guidance.
Show each employee how their role fits into your company’s mission.
Integrate your guiding beliefs into routine discussions. Remind your team during meetings, “Our mission is to _____”. When deciding between two projects, ask team members which project they think would be more effective at achieving the company’s vision. When there’s uncertainty over a proposal, ask your staff how they think it fits with the company’s values.
When your company faces financial stress, your team will be more effective at making difficult choices when they remember why they’re working, what they’re working toward, and what values they should use to make decisions.
Step 3: Integrate the Beliefs into Your Company’s Culture
Once you establish your company’s guiding beliefs, start practicing them!
Here are 5 tips for applying your company’s mission, vision, and values.
- Consider requiring new employees to memorize the company’s guiding beliefs so that they’re easier to reference and use.
- Reward good behavior with spot-bonuses, peer-voting programs, or written recognition.
- If an employee acts in a way that contradicts your company’s guiding beliefs, point out how their action is out of alignment then tell them how they should adjust their behavior.
- Make sure your actions align with the company’s values. If you notice a misalignment, admit the mistake and affirm your commitment to do better.
- Review your company’s website, sales scripts, and newsletters. Make sure your marketing materials tell the story of how your company is living its mission, reaching for its vision, and living its values.
Staying true to your beliefs doesn’t just boost employee morale. Your customers are far more likely to remain loyal to your brand (and evangelize it) when they know what you stand for.
Step 4: Update Your Mission, Vision, and Values When Needed
Your guiding beliefs should remain fairly constant from year to year, but you can change them when you need to.
Your mission should be broad enough to allow you to take advantage of new technologies and opportunities.
Your company’s vision is more apt to change because it’s more focused on the short-term. For example, you might realize that the original vision is not the best opportunity to pursue, or you might achieve the vision and then decide to grow by focusing on a new opportunity.
It’s normal for young companies to learn, pivot, and change visions. But even established companies can benefit from recognizing new opportunities and adapting to stay relevant.
Finally, your values should remain fairly constant. However, as you take on new staff or face new challenges, you might find that adding or refining your company’s values can improve the guidance you give your team.
Your Beliefs Will Shape Your Company’s Future
Guiding beliefs are the foundation on which you make all other business choices. As such, they’re critical to your long-term success.
Over 100 years ago, George Eastman started Kodak with the slogan: “You Press the Button, We Do the Rest.” Customers learned that they could enjoy capturing and sharing memories without worrying about techniques or technology, and so they fell in love with the brand.
In 2001, Kodak began a new marketing campaign: “Share Moments, Share Life.”
Both slogans were simple, authentic, and customer focused. Both could have been the basis for a strong company mission.
Instead, after Eastman’s death, Kodak’s employees operated on a mission statement that was vague and complex, cold and inauthentic, and internally focused: “Kodak operates its facilities, and designs and markets its products and services, not only to increase shareholder value, but also to promote development of the individual, the well being of the community, and respect for the environment.”
Telling employees to focus on “increasing shareholder value” isn’t exactly a statement that gets people excited to come to work in the morning. It’s also not likely to motivate managers to take bold risks in an effort to shape the future.
In 1996 Kodak was positioned for extraordinary growth. The company was worth $25 billion, and the greatest opportunities for “sharing moments” were both about to go mainstream in the decade ahead.
Imagine an alternative universe where Kodak’s executive team replaced their stodgy mission with one based on their energetic, customer-centric slogans.
- Imagine if, when the greatest platform for social sharing reached commercial audiences, employees enthusiastically went to work to help their customers “share moments.” They exploited the commercial Internet by creating websites for photo-sharing, video-sharing, and live-streaming.
- Imagine if, when the greatest hardware for photography and instant communication arrived, employees remembered their purpose was to “do the rest” after customers “press the button.” They exploited new mobile phone technology by developing software that amateur photographers would love—mobile apps for taking, enhancing, decorating, augmenting and sharing photos and videos.
Your Mission Drives Your Company More Than Money
Kodak had over 100,000 employees who were on an uninspiring mission to “increase shareholder value,” presumably by doing what it had always done—selling photographic film rolls.
Meanwhile, Instagram had 12 employees who were on an exciting mission to “capture and share the world’s moments,” and they were ready to make changes to their business whenever new opportunities arose to fulfill that mission.
Hindsight is always 20-20. But strong guiding beliefs, and the courage to follow them, might be the next best thing.
Now, if you haven’t already, get started on your mission statement, your vision statement, and your company values, or try our tips for applying the ones you have.
Someday soon you’ll be glad you did.