By Jim Paluch
Twenty-five years ago I would ask an audience of business owners, “How many of you have a mission statement?” A small percentage of hands would tentatively go up with looks imploring me not to actually ask them what it is.
Ask that same question today and nearly every hand goes up, with many even being able to recite their statements word for word. After listening to a few volunteers prove their memorization skills, it is clear that they all must have gone to the same seminar to learn how to write a mission statement, because they are filled with the same cliché phrases such as “to be the best in the industry,” “to exceed customer expectations” and “to work as a team.”
These are certainly lofty and important goals; the problem is no one is getting inspired by them, including the owner. My point is proven when the audience is asked this next important question: “How many of you use your mission statement to inspire your team?” While that question sparks an enlightening discussion on how hard it is to find, keep, trust or motivate employees today, it becomes a long answer to “No, we really do not use the mission statement.”
If you want some insight into creating and inspiring your team through your mission statement, watch the movie, “Braveheart.” When you arrive at the scene where the Scottish army is looking out across the battlefield at the English army that has five times the men and weapons, and has decided to collectively turn and run, pay close attention to how Mel Gibson as William Wallace uses a mission. He rides in and inspires action with a winning mission statement by telling a story, showing his own commitment to it and using words that his countrymen could relate to: “You can take our lives, but you can never take our freedom.” I should mention that the horse, face paint and kilt from the movie are optional in your morning meetings, yet they could add special effects! Joking aside, in that one statement, an army found the inspiration to go into battle, fight and ultimately to win.
Isn’t that what we are asking of our team on a dark January night as they prepare to march into a snow event? Try applying the leadership lessons of William Wallace.
Use words that reflect your team
Most mission statements talk about what a company wants to do and miss the opportunity to capture the emotional “why” behind doing it. Consider a mission statement as simple as “We keep people alive outside.” With that as your battle cry, it is telling your newest employees as well as reminding your veterans of the vital work they do. To inspire with a mission statement, it must connect with the heart as well as the brain. A mission statement that inspires gives purpose beyond just plowing snow and helps create the understanding that the work each person is doing could prevent an accident or help a young couple get to the hospital for the birth of their first child.
The leader must be committed to it. In the most successful companies, employees will tell how the owner is always talking about the mission statement. Consider the impact of starting a meeting with the question: “What did you do today to help keep people alive outside?” and then challenge your team and yourself to give an answer. As you bring the mission statement into daily conversations and decisions, you make it a real and useful tool for your team.
Tell a story
A story can inspire action, and the greatest leaders are great storytellers. A story that provides a sense of history and lessons learned from a past snow event combined with an inspiring purpose, such as our example of “keeping people alive outside,” has the power to motivate people to take action now. Consider the difference between telling a story and just reporting the facts: “You need to be here at 3 a.m. to go plow.” An inspiring story will cause an individual to prepare to go into battle by making sure their alarm is set, clothes are laid out and the coffee is ready to go.
There is a vast difference between having a mission statement and using a mission statement to grow your company, inspire your team and even keep people alive outside!
Jim Paluch and the JP HORIZONS team have been helping great companies go into battle for more than three decades. You can share your stories with him at Jim@jphorizons.com.