A successful company starts with a strong office culture. But some businesses prioritize the wrong aspects of a thriving business environment or forget about it entirely.
Thousands of business experts have scrutinized what goes into company culture, but the root of the matter often gets lost. Many companies try to adopt flashy workplace incentives, like office ping-pong tables or Google’s bike meetings, to build a positive environment. While these offerings may seem great on the surface, they 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.”
We’ll explore the idea of a company mission and why it matters. Then, we’ll learn how to create and define a mission for your organization.
A company’s mission is its reason for existing. While all for-profit companies aim to make money, a mission specifies the founders’ most crucial priorities beyond monetary gain.
A mission typically addresses what the company does and how and why it does it. It may also include a statement of values and ethics. A mission identifies a common overarching goal that, ideally, all employees can get behind and use as motivation and behavior guidelines.
Usually a company’s founder creates the mission, although the company may modify it as time passes and the company evolves. A company’s mission is summed up in a mission statement, which may range from a single sentence to a short paragraph.
Large companies sometimes spend years and millions of dollars trying to develop a succinct and compelling mission statement. Luckily, however, the process does not need to be as laborious for small companies. A business owner, and perhaps a close group of executives or stakeholders, can craft a small business mission statement within weeks.
A company mission should do three things:
To get an idea of what your mission might look like, it can be helpful to review examples of missions from well-known companies. Many of these missions focus on corporate social responsibility.
Greenwashing is when a brand spends more time, money and effort on marketing itself as environmentally friendly than it does on living up to its sustainability claims. Patagonia is one company that’s transparent about its current level of sustainability and efforts to improve.
Employee engagement and retention are crucial for 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 regularly.
Hiring an employee should be an investment. Small businesses need 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 2021 Gallup poll found that only 36% of U.S. 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 leads 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.”
In addition, a strong mission statement can carry the company forward even after a founder passes away or retires.
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 must be honest with themselves and look to tangible values beyond profit. These values, or worldviews, 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,” Cohen said.
Post your mission in your office, include it in your recruiting and onboarding materials, write it in your company handbook, and discuss it at company meetings. An example of a visible mission is the “Believe” sign in the locker room in the Apple show Ted Lasso.
To act as a true leader, you should be an example of your company’s mission. This takes your mission from words posted on a wall in the break room to a living goal.
“The leader goes first,” Cohen said. “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 where he had to fire some toxic employees from his woodworking company. While they may have been high performers, these workers didn’t align with Cohen’s mission and goals as a business owner. He said the decision to confront some employees was difficult, but 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 realities. Otherwise, a mission is just an abstract idea that doesn’t reflect what a company is actually like.
Remember that the mission doesn’t end with the business owner – it’s shared among all employees. In addition to discussing your mission and posting it on the walls, your company’s mission should also be apparent in company policies. For example, if treating customers with respect is part of your mission, the company should reward and recognize service reps when customers give them excellent feedback or mention them in positive online reviews.
If honesty and integrity are part of your mission, you shouldn’t compensate sales employees when they get the sale through dishonest or underhanded means.
A defined company mission gives your organization direction and helps you engage and retain employees. When working on your mission, be honest and genuine about your ideals as a business owner and think critically about how you want your business to impact the world.
Once you have a business idea and a mission, you must be the first to follow its tenets. 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.”
Matt D’Angelo contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.