Why are we here?
If your organization can't answer that question clearly, it's time for an existential crisis.
It's not enough to have a stated company mission. It needs to be embedded as part of the company culture for numerous reasons:
- to attract and retain mission-driven talent
- to improve the triple bottom line
- to drive employee engagement
- to inspire long-term thinking
- ...and to leave the world better than we found it
Building an intentional culture where employees are engaged and performing well begins with aligning your organization around a shared purpose.
Your mission matters
Imagine you are contracting someone to remodel your house. Two contractors offer to do the work for the same price on the same timeline, but one of them clearly lives for this, and the other...well, it's a way to make a living.
Who would you hire?
There's good reason to hire the first contractor. They care about what they do, and it will come through in their work.
The same is true for your employees. Work that they care about is work that they perform better. Google and Zappos have found that meaning is a crucial component to team performance and employee happiness, respectively.
It's also increasingly important to Gen Z and Millennials to find work that aligns with their values. These are candidates who are primed for improved employee engagement provided your organization lives out those values through its actions.
Defining a compelling mission
If your company doesn't have a clear mission already, here are some strategies to create one.
First, start with a broad mission that is widely adopted then write a company mission that supports it.
For example, a broad mission for the Education employers on our website is to "create upward mobility by improving access to high-quality, low-cost education." This is bigger than any one company can solve on its own.
A broad mission is sufficiently ambitious to inspire employees, but we need a company mission that is tangible enough to ensure employees can see the impact of their actions.
For example, saying our mission is to "help teachers and schools make higher quality matches with ease" is easier to wrap our heads around. Employees can see those matches happen in real time and know that they've made a difference.
Be careful about writing a broad company mission because it can leave the organization unfocused. It can be appropriate for larger companies to have a broad mission statement provided that smaller groups in the organization have their own stated missions. We actually encourage this in the job postings on One Work so candidates know their team's mission in the context of the overall organization.
Another approach to creating a mission is to identify a persona for your employees to emulate. One of the goals of defining a strong vision, mission, and values is to align behaviors. The persona helps clarify this.
For example, our mission is to align people around shared purpose to effect positive change, and our persona is to be the best sidekick to the superheroes saving the world. When we make decisions, we can ask ourselves, "Is this what a great sidekick would do?"
The other value of creating a persona is to help establish an identity for the business. It can unify the workforce, and it's especially valuable for customer-facing roles. The persona is a simple way to describe how employees should act and gives them agency to work within those boundaries.
Lastly, your company's products or services do not need to provide social impact in themselves. That's where an impact business model comes in. It's your way of generating positive stakeholder impact as a core part of your business model.
For example, Bombas donates one pair of socks for every pair sold. Selling socks doesn't necessarily drive social impact, but their business model is specifically designed to support those in need.
Establishing the right incentives
In order for your company mission to find wide adoption, you need to put the right incentives in place. That's because you already have a company culture, even if you weren't intentional about it to begin with.
Keep in mind that although your mission is a motivator for some people, it's likely not the key driver for every one of your employees. The employees who joined your company because they believe in your mission will need little incentive. Your goal is to design incentives that align other employees' motivators to the company mission.
One of the more common levers is to build your company mission into the performance development process. For example, the B Impact Assessment encourages employers to include social and environmental impact in the performance development process and manager job descriptions. This ensures that personal financial success, if that's a key employee motivator, is aligned with the organization's social impact outcomes.
Let's try another example: say you have an employee whose key motivator is to set a positive example for their kids. You can employ job crafting to create opportunities for them to lead a social impact project aligned to the company mission, perhaps one where their kids could participate.
Consider asking them to organize a volunteer day for employees and their families. This gives them a leadership opportunity for career development and a chance for their kids to see the impact they are having on the workplace and community. It also shows you care – important if you want to improve employee engagement and reduce employee turnover.
Operations in service of your mission
We can maximize the triple bottom line by using the company mission to scrutinize our work: Will this task advance the mission?
Work that doesn't pass this test is wasted effort that actively inhibits the benefits of a mission-driven culture.
An analogous test is to ask what tasks will best advance the company mission. This forces us to prioritize the most impactful activities in our business.
Similarly, it's essential to apply time constraints to the company's social impact objectives in order to create tradeoffs.
Without tradeoffs, we risk accepting all work that comes our way instead of deprioritizing work that doesn't provide sufficient value in terms of the triple bottom line.
At One Work, we follow a quarterly cadence that includes one week of planning followed by six two-week sprints. This helps us balance our long-term goals with short-term execution. Frequently, we find we can't accomplish everything we want to do in the quarter which forces us to eliminate work that is less important.
In short, building a mission-driven culture helps the business operate more effectively to the benefit of all stakeholders.
A strong mission anchors your company culture and drives employee engagement, operations, and the triple bottom line.
Connecting your company to a higher purpose is an essential step whether your company is a social enterprise or simply focused on shareholder value. Employees are increasingly motivated to seek careers that align to their values – it's not just about what you do but why you do it.