On a missionLATELY I’VE BEEN WORKING with an increasing number of business owners who are out to change the world — in great ways!

For instance, I spoke with the head of a local medical clinic who is tackling the rapidly escalating costs head-on. They’re using a different model that relies much less on insurance companies, helping to give patients the tools they need to keep themselves healthy.

I can point to the rapid growth in what had been called “alternative medicine” but in fact is now quite mainstream. Chiropractors, acupuncturists, herbalists and naturopaths abound.

Many of these people are in business not only to make a living, but to improve the health and lives of those in the community. They know it’s not an easy path, but their mission is what’s driving their passion to succeed.

I had a chance recently to give a presentation at Fort Collins Startup Week addressing the special needs of mission-driven startups. I explained that the power of a compelling purpose is proven through the quality of partnerships it helps you create.

A typical corporate mission statement might read like a mishmash of buzzwords such as “customer service,” “market-leading” and “innovation.” Each of these is fine on its own, but when you create a mission statement with a committee of managers, the result tends to be … just a barrage of words.

A compelling and powerful mission is one with which you have such deep alignment that you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else. It’s what I call “changing the world,” but it doesn’t have to be that ambitious. Maybe you’re just trying to give jobs to the disadvantaged in the community.

When you band with others, that’s when you start to change the world.

That’s where the concept of partnerships comes into play. It’s a different way of thinking about your business relationships, more than just transactions.

Your customers are partners when they make purchases because they believe in your cause.

Your suppliers are partners when they optimize quality and lower costs because they want to help you change the world.

Your employees are partners when they’re proactively making improvements to help you deliver your mission.

It might sound like I’m using the language of nonprofits and charities to describe your business relationships. I am. That doesn’t at all mean that you need to sacrifice your for-profit structure, just that we can learn from how people band together to accomplish non-business goals.

Having a larger cause isn’t a distraction. When done well, it makes you a powerful industry leader who is attracting top employees and supporters.

Traditional examples of this principle include Disney, IBM and Google. The number of new companies exploring this is absolutely exploding. We just aren’t sure who the long-term leaders will be.

I have to point out that many younger workers, including Millennials and Gen-X, have developed personal value systems that place top priority on making a difference in the world through their work. Perhaps this is a reason why they tend to have low engagement with traditional large corporations.

It’s no longer about just getting a paycheck.

So how do you capture a mission, vision or purpose that is compelling and powerful? I had a chance to explore this recently in an article on valuesbased.biz. Here are the key elements:

Vision: How the world will be improved.

Why: Why we choose to do this.

What: The key things our business will deliver.

How: Unique things we’ll do.

I find that the most powerful missions often come from a single person or a small group who are so passionate about a concept that they have to start a company to achieve their goal. This spreads virally, based on the emotional engagement of those who share similar values.

The result looks very much like why people contribute their time and money to charitable causes and social groups. It unlocks an amazing amount of energy and focus, attracting those who are likely to make the most difference.

But it doesn’t look like what committees usually create.


This article was first published in BizWest on February 19, 2016 (page 7).

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