By Leslie Rugaber, an EO Seattle member and CEO of Worktank
I recently decided to take off my corporate business suit and put on a pair of Birkenstocks. I’m drawing the line at the patchouli, though. It was time for me to get back to the basics of my business. I run a virtual events production company that’s committed to quality story-telling through online video. Every day, we work hard telling our client’s stories, but it wasn’t until I started thinking about our own story and how it drives our staff that I had a revelation.
A year ago, I looked around my office and saw plenty of talented, focused people whose brains were engaged but whose hearts weren’t. While everyone could explain the what behind our company, what we were missing was the why. We were successful and turning a profit, sure, but we couldn’t pinpoint what it was all in service of. Our mission had become muddled, and it all started with me. When I think about the story behind my business, I keep coming back to a poem by Robert Frost. No need to get into the whole length of it, but here’s the crux:
“But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite,
My avocation and my vocation,
As my two eyes make one in sight.”
I’ve read this poem a million times, but it had finally snapped into focus for me. Somehow over the years, my avocation and my vocation had split into two. I had committed myself to the what of the business for so long that I forgot to spend time on the why. So last year, I found myself no longer wanting my time and energy to be split between my work and what I’m passionate about— making a difference by giving back to the community. I wanted my efforts to combine both. And if I felt that way, how must my employees feel? Would they get behind a change of course? Can our work be meaningful by paying us in two ways: a paycheck and a sense of giving back? I was on a mission to change our mission.
Adjusting the focus of our company seemed daunting, but it was a necessary step in getting it back on the right path. I started the process by thinking about how I wanted to make a mark beyond supporting the digital communication needs of our clients. I wanted to create meaning for our employees by using their skills for the global good, so I shifted our focus to one that made a bigger mark. I committed our company to helping non-profits expand the reach of their communications and increase the impact of their work. Here are some lessons I learned along the way:
Dig Deep and Find Your Calling
Take the time to really bore down on what it is your life is meant to be about. What is your real role as an entrepreneur? Kill or silence any internal doubt. Once you’ve found your true calling, find someone to help you lead; someone who knows your business well and could act as a foil. For me, this happened to be someone within my organization, but it doesn’t have to be. What’s critical is that they tell you things you don’t like hearing and challenge your assumptions to help you stay cognizant of your real goal. Of course, it’s also critical that you hear them. Their feedback will be invaluable as you integrate your new mission into the organization.
Integrate the Corporate Mission
When it came time to communicate our new mission, we distilled our “meaning” down into some easily repeatable phrases. For me, I knew it was working when I could recite our company mission and vision without referring to where it was written down. To keep our philosophy top of mind, we integrated our messaging into our quarterly meetings and shared wins that aligned with the new mission. This helped create buy-in from the staff, which led to us launching an employee reward program that emphasized the importance of building community connections.
Find Your Mission Ambassadors
To ensure our company is driven by a mission of purpose, rather than profit, we targeted key influencers and had them serve as internal ambassadors of the mission. Then we engaged our sales team and had them participate in our calls to non-profits, with the goal of building future relationships and establishing our presence. Finally, we hired a consultant who helped us better understand the nuances of the non-profit space, and who provided us with insights we used to educate staff about our new customer base. Because as we all know, a company mission won’t work if you don’t have the right people in place.
Since we adopted our new mission, my team’s pride in their work has increased dramatically, and I’ve found the same is true for me. I’ve rediscovered a passion that I never knew I had lost. Now that our mission has snapped into place, I feel like I’m making a difference beyond just business. And that’s the biggest reward of all.
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