In my last blog post, I talked about some critical questions to ask before proceeding to the important step of setting organizational foundations. Asking several key questions before you embark on a start-up journey is essential. Once those questions have been asked and pondered, and hopefully answered, you’re ready to start laying some foundations.
There are three critical foundations of every organization – Mission, Vision and Values -- and I’ll briefly address each of them.
Mission – Why does your company exist? Are you solving a big problem? Is there an obvious point of need in the marketplace? Are you delivering value in a way that’s differentiated from other offerings? All aspects of your company – its processes and functions, goals and objectives, systems and structures -- should ultimately tie back to the mission in a meaningful way. Once established, missions seldom change (though the manner in which they’re accomplished certainly does).
The company’s mission should strongly align with the personal mission/purpose of each of its leaders. Simply put, aligned leaders are better able to bring others in the organization into alignment – and better employee alignment increases the odds of accomplishing the mission! Employees should be able to easily articulate what the organization’s mission is, what their role in helping to achieve it is, and whether or not they and their coworkers align with the mission. Leaders should regularly perform assessments of alignment – for themselves and for the organization at large.
Vision - After the mission is established, the next step is to define a vision for the organization – in other words, a clear picture of where the organization is headed. It is important to aim the organization toward a “preferable future” – so that all of the organization’s stakeholders can be inspired to reach for it. I’ve found that most employees want to be part of something special, to be able to make a significant personal contribution towards a compelling vision.
Articulating the vision can be done through some relatively simple exercises. Start with selecting a specific point in the future, say three years hence. Then, ask your team the question, “if we successfully execute on our mission over these three years, what will our organization look like?” Another way to think about it -- if a feature article were to be written by a local journalist, how would she describe the entity to her readers? Through these brainstorming approaches, a specific vision for the company can be developed and agreed to by all.
Values -- Values are the third and final piece of the foundation of an organization. Often overlooked and seldom discussed, values are the bedrock guidelines for making difficult decisions in your business. Is your organization committed to the value of integrity? Excellence? Teamwork? Delighting Customers? Innovation? These are but a few examples.
I’ve found that values that are anchored in spiritual truth are those that will withstand the hurricane force winds of the marketplace. When times get tough – and they invariably do for most companies – having a well articulated set of values to which the leadership team subscribes will provide the necessary structure for making wise decisions. Furthermore, the leaders of the organization will set the pace by living out the organization’s values and inviting their employees to hold them accountable to doing so.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
I’ll close with the words of gospel writer Dr. Luke, who powerfully conveyed the importance of setting foundations in your life, your relationships and of course, your business:
These words I speak to you are not mere additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundation words, words to build a life on. If you work the words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who dug deep and laid the foundation of his house on bedrock. When the river burst its banks and crashed against the house, nothing could shake it; it was built to last. But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a dumb carpenter who built a house but skipped the foundation. When the swollen river came crashing in, it collapsed like a house of cards. It was a total loss. – Luke 6:47-49 (MSG)