I used to say that the easiest way to stop business owners in their tracks is to ask them to define the mission and vision of their company.
Yes, I can hear you groaning from my quarantine bunker…
Some owners may find defining their mission and vision to be a waste of time, reserved for consultants at high-end companies. Or they may have done this years ago and the end product is gathering dust on a plaque somewhere.
But in this time of economic and social upheaval, there are three reasons why sharpening your vision and mission is not only a worthwhile endeavor—but essential, now more than ever.
Mission vs. Vision
First, let’s define what I mean by mission and vision.
Mission deals with the question: “Why do you exist right now?” What are you trying to accomplish as an organization? The answers to these questions should sound like a charge, something that people can get behind. If you’re finding that your answers fall into the less-inspiring “Well, we’re here to make money” category, then keep reading.
Vision deals with the question: “How do you want to exist in the future?” Where do you want your business to go? The answer to these questions can look out two, five, or ten years down the road. And while COVID-19 might make you scratch your head about tomorrow, again I say: keep reading.
So why should you bother to sharpen your mission and vision when 1) your business may be “existing” in an unprecedented way and 2) the future is so uncertain?
Let’s get into it.
1. They Keep Your Head in the Game
Every business owner in America (and around the world) is facing some kind of disruption right now. Whether it’s a shutdown in your supply chain, an temporary exile from your office space, or the health threat to your employees, there’s probably something affecting your business. I’ve heard a range of responses from business owners about how they feel in the midst of COVID-19 interruptions.
For some, there is a sense of optimism and carpe diem eagerness to revamp and retool. For others, there’s a sense of anxiety and overwhelm over the survival of their business. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, focusing on your mission and vision will keep your head in the game.
If you’re feeling optimistic, this is the perfect time to rethink your mission and vision as it will guide you to make strategic, intentional choices about how you want to retool. Rather than throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, your mission and vision will help you prioritize what to work on first.
If you’re feeling anxious, your mission and vision will be your lighthouse through the storm. They will be wells you can draw upon when you need a reminder that your business is still relevant and will be relevant again. Rather than falling into a panic, you can use them as navigation tools that keep you grounded in why you began your business in the first place.
2. They Pull People Together
Your employees can’t believe in your business MORE than you do. By sharpening and recommitting yourself to your mission and vision, you’ll be an energizing force that helps keep your employees’ heads in the game. When your team shares a compelling mission and a clear vision, they can rally around your company in surprising ways.
Just look at the breweries around the world who have begun distilling alcohol for hand sanitizer instead of their usual spirits. One such brewery, BrewDog, had workers working all weekend to prepare 5000 bottles of hand sanitizer
Now, was distilling hand sanitizer the original mission that drew employees to that business? Probably not. But at a time when employees are feeling most vulnerable, having something to rally around boosts morale. And, in turn, that can build loyalty and engagement that can pay off down the road.
3. They Differentiate Your Value
Lastly, having a compelling mission and clear vision makes you attractive to your potential partners (be they suppliers or customers) by showing them what you’re all about—and how you’re different.
Of course, as we deal with the current realities of COVID-19, standing out from the crowd in a noisy (and very distracted) market is critical to success and simple survival. If you’re finding that your competitive advantage is being pinched by recent shutdowns, now is a perfect time to examine how to leverage your mission and vision.
It could be that you need to go through a phase of reflection, deconstruction, and reimagination in order to sharpen your differentiated value. To take another example from a brewery, Sam Hendler, co-owner of Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers and Springdale Beer Co., Framingham, Mass. has leaned into wholesale distribution and their role in the community as a way of keeping their hat in the ring. He says:
“In a situation that poses an existential threat, it is easy to lose yourself in the fight to survive. That being said, this brewery is a part of a community. If we are going down, we will go down while giving away pizzas to hungry families. We’ve partnered with a local food pantry, Daniel’s Table, to donate 150 pizzas a week.”
How can you get started sharpening your mission and vision?
If you’re still groaning at the prospect of dusting off your mission and vision, don’t worry. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
One final word on this: putting your mission and vision on a plaque doesn’t make it real. You keeping your head in the game, guiding your leadership, and sharing your mission and vision with your employees so they own it—that’s how you make it real. If you repeat this process enough, it becomes something that you all own. And then it’s really real.