Do your employees know “why” they do “what” they do?

When I worked for Michelin, people would ask me, “What do you do for Michelin?”  Almost always, my first answer was “I make tires.”  This would normally be followed by, “No really, what do you do for Michelin?”  I would explain my role within the company and what I did to support the overall business results.  Thinking about my 35 years with the company, I was seldom asked by someone outside the company, “What is Michelin’s purpose?  Why does the company exist?”

Simon Sinek is an American author and motivational speaker.  Simon is an unshakable optimist who believes in a bright future and our ability to build it together. He discovered remarkable patterns about how the greatest leaders and organizations think, act, and communicate.  One of his most well-known books is titled, “Start with Why:  How great leaders inspire everyone to take action”.  Simon explains that people buy “why” you do something before they will consider purchases based upon the “what” and the “how”.

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The same logic applies to employees of a company.  People that work in an organization will carry out their mission for a paycheck.

More importantly, their commitment and motivation will be generated from a company’s “why” or purpose.  Business leaders should first establish their company’s purpose.  This comes before all else.

A company’s purpose does not change over time – it remains constant.  If it does change, you are starting a new business.  A company’s purpose should be something very global.  Some examples include:

  • Tesla: Accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.
  • Whole Foods: To nourish people and the planet.
  • Charles Schwab: We champion every client’s goals with passion and integrity, as if they were our own.

Once a company’s purpose is clear, the next step is to define its what, its Vision.  A Vision is constantly updated. It describes a theoretical perfect for immediate traction and looks out 3 to 5 years.

The Vision is close enough to inspire action now while also allowing for a variety of solutions.  A good Vision statement is idealistic and expansive, fun to read, pushes the envelope, and considers the future possibilities.

A Vision Statement is the business leader’s perception of marketplace needs and the ways the business can satisfy them.  A few examples:

  • Tesla: To create the most compelling car company of the 21st century by driving the world’s transition to electric vehicles.
  • Southwest Airlines: To become the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline.
  • McDonalds: To be the best quick service restaurant experience.  Being the best means providing outstanding quality, service, cleanliness, and value, so that we make every customer in every restaurant smile.

Mission follows vision.  The mission is how you will accomplish your vision, your what.  A good mission statement is focused on the customer, reflects passion and commitment, and is clear and concise.

The mission of your business can be found in the answer to the question, “Given our collective talents, skills, knowledge and experience, and operating according to our values, how can we best contribute to our purpose?” A few example mission statements are:

  • Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (pharmaceuticals) – “To discover, develop, and deliver innovative medicines that help patients prevail over serious diseases.”
  • Walgreens (drugstores) – “Champion the health and well-being of every community in America.”
  • Nike (athletics) – “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”

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Now put them all together.  For a theoretical high-end coffee shop in downtown Greenville, the purpose, vision, and mission might look like this:

Purpose: To increase the sense of community for the citizens and visitors to downtown Greenville.

Vision: In 2023, be the #1 preferred place to gather in a warm atmosphere and enjoy their favorite non-alcoholic beverages and pastries for the citizens of and visitors to downtown Greenville.

Mission: To sell the best coffee and home-made pastries in a warm and welcoming atmosphere where customers will feel comfortable to gather, work and relax throughout the day.

What about Michelin?  What is Michelin’s purpose?  It is not to make tires.  Making tires relates to the company’s mission.  Tire production describes a “how.”  Michelin is much more than a tire company.  Michelin’s purpose is “To provide people with a Better Way Forward.”

What does this mean?  It means giving people better mobility which in turn translates into freedom.  As a Michelin employee, I was proud of the great tires we produced but even prouder of our purpose of “Giving People a Better Way Forward.”

Do your employees know “why” you do “what” you do?  Does your company clearly express its purpose, vision, and mission?  If a business does not have these, now is the time to develop them.

The development of the purpose, vision, and mission is a key responsibility of a business leader.  The purpose, vision, and mission are foundational elements of any business.  They are necessary for sustainable business results.

About the Author: Mike Ungar is a Certified FocalPoint Business Coach and Trainer.  He has 35 years of experience with Michelin in manufacturing and human resources.  Mike is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and the Clemson MBA program.

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