A successful company starts with a strong office culture. But some businesses prioritize the wrong aspects of a successful business environment, or forget about it altogether.
This idea has been subject to scrutiny from thousands of business experts. The root of the matter, however, often gets lost. From ping-pong tables in the office to Google's bike meetings, it seems companies everywhere are trying to adopt incentives to build a successful business environment.
These incentives, while they may seem great on the surface, have not been proven to retain and engage employees. A successful company culture starts with a defined, tangible mission. If your employees don't know where they fit in the process or what the company is working toward, your organization will flounder.
"It is fundamental to set the tone of the work environment," said Jasmin Terrany, a psychotherapist and life coach who supports professionals. "Employees these days are not as motivated by simply a paycheck. If you want employees who are going to go to battle with and for you, they need to feel connected to a deeper purpose or mission." [Related: 7 Common Leadership Mistakes You're Probably Making]
Why a mission matters
Employee engagement and retention has become a crucial part of any small business's success. It's expensive to recruit, hire and onboard new employees, and the changing work landscape has made it the norm for professionals to jump jobs on a regular basis. Hiring an employee should be viewed as an investment. For a small business, it's important to build a sustainable organization that can withstand the pressures of encroaching job offers.
Yet, many workers still don't feel engaged at work. A 2015 Gallup poll found that only 32 percent of workers feel engaged in their jobs. This lack of engagement is a nightmare for small business owners. When employees aren't engaged, productivity wanes, and businesses may end up spending more time looking for the right people than focusing on the employees they already have.
Creating a company mission also allows organizations to define what they stand for, which can lead to growth.
"Having a well-defined mission not only gets the buy-in from my employees, but it helps clarify what my company does and does not do," Terrany said. "It can be easy to get caught up in information overload and get distracted from the plan. Having a well-thought-out mission helps me and my employees stay focused."
Finding tangible values
Creating a company mission starts with defining tangible values. The most important part is being honest and genuine in your approach. Phillip Cohen, president and founder of Cohen Architectural Woodworking, built his commercial woodworking business from the ground up. He started woodworking in 1975 as a recovering addict, and his organization's mission evolved as his business grew. Cohen received the 2017 SBA Missouri Small Business Person of the Year award.
"Our stated mission is to transform every life we touch by the way we live, the way we treat people and the beautiful work we produce," he said.
To develop the right kind of mission, Cohen said, business owners need to be honest with themselves and look to tangible values beyond profit. These values, or view of the world, can attract the right kind of employees and provide an organization with a framework for success.
"If you're the senior leader, whether you like it or not, whatever happens in your heart is what happens in the business," he said.
Living your company's mission
The other important aspect is being an example of your company's mission. This takes your mission from random words posted on a wall in the break room to a living goal.
"The leader goes first," said Cohen. "If you want a culture where people are honest and admit their failures, then you need to be the first one in."
Cohen described a situation with his woodworking company where he had to get rid of some toxic employees. These workers, while they may have been high performers, didn't align with Cohen's mission and goals as a business owner. He said the decision to confront some employees was difficult. But in the end, it proved his integrity to other employees and potential hires.
By serving as an example for your employees, you align your idea of your business's culture with day-to-day reality. Otherwise, a mission is just an abstract idea that doesn't reflect what a company is actually like.
A defined company mission gives your organization direction and helps you engage and retain employees. When working on your mission, it's important to be honest and genuine to your own ideals as a business owner, and to think critically about how you want your business to impact the world. Once you have an idea, you must be the first to follow it. It's also important to surround yourself with workers who agree with your mission and live it out each day.
"If you're the senior leader, you trust the mission that's burning in your heart," Cohen said. "And then you surround yourself with mentors who call you out and tell you the truth, and tell you when you get off course, so you [get] to be accountable to people."