Recently, we published a video about how purpose powers business, and this is the 1st podcast in a 3 part series where we are taking 10-15 minutes to unpack that whiteboard session and go a little deeper. These podcasts are based on questions we’ve received, and each will cover one section of the Venn diagram in that video. If you haven't seen that video or need a refresher, you can find a link to the video and an article with the diagram in the show notes.
This brings us to our questions for today’s podcast.
First, do people really take corporate missions seriously? Second, how does an organization create a mission? And, thirdly, how do we stay on mission?
Do Corporate Mission Statements Matter?
Howard: Those are great questions, and they rely on each other. Those questions are reflective of the feedback I’m getting as I talk to people about our recent video. Do people really take corporate missions seriously? We can find examples. Well, we’ll cover that first because if people don’t take them seriously, there’s no reason to create one. And, if we don’t create one, we can’t stay on one.
And, of course, we can find examples of people and companies who do not take mission seriously. Company missions are actually only about 50 years old, as we mentioned in the video.
God’s word gave us a mission first. People follow that mission by making disciples and living how Jesus lived. Eventually, the military picked it up. Then, people started defining the mission of their businesses.
Some businesses do an incredible job. We mentioned Coca-Cola in our video because we think they have a pretty good mission statement, “To refresh the world and make a difference.” However, we received some push back from using them as an example. Coca-Cola is one of the biggest polluters in the world; how is that refreshing? And, that’s true. Coke produces a lot of pollution, but they are actively doing things to combat that. By stating their mission, they are held accountable to those promises.
Another example is Nike. Their mission statement is to, “Bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete.” They’ve had pollution problems as well as labor problems. Like Coke, they are addressing these issues because their mission statement holds them accountable. Because they say it, they have to address it.
While we are picking on people, another example is Facebook. Their mission is about “Giving people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” Many people would argue that Facebook is tearing the world apart, not bringing it closer together.
And, of course, there are areas where these companies meet their mission, and there are areas where they fall short. So we’ll cover that more fully later.
There’s also no perfect mission. Companies, like people, are always imperfect. There are no perfect people; so there are no perfect companies. That’s true for nonprofits and churches as well. There’s no perfect church because they are full of imperfect people.
Of course, no one is righteous, no not one. But that doesn’t mean our aim shouldn’t be better — to glorify God in all we do.
Missions are important, and we do not need to judge, but we can learn. Each one of us will give our own account, and, believe me, you don’t want to be the judge. Even in mission failures, we can learn how they are correcting them and how we can set new missions because of it. There are many company missions that are a reaction to what they didn’t like about someone else’s mission, and that’s ok.
Creating A Mission Statement
So how do we create a mission? We’ve said in that Venn diagram it’s from the needs of the world, what is love in that case, and what gifts do we have to do something about it.
For many, a mission can be described as a burden for what’s not quite right and what to do about it. That’s how Andy Stanley, in his book Visioneering, describes this.
In subsequent podcasts we will cover how gifts and means fit into this equation. Do I have the gifts, resources, or talents to meet the need? A lot of the time it’s unique to the organization and what’s the biggest problem to solve.
Steve Jobs and Apple thought that computers stunk, and they could be creative and innovative. Calligraphy, how could better fonts be in computers instead of bits and bytes and boring code? That spurned making things different, and it was a burden he had that was unique to him. Not a lot of people were burdened by that, but he was and he created one of the most valuable companies in the world by attacking the burden that bothered him.
So we want to know what uniquely burdens us and what would value all people. We have to treat people well in the upside. I’d just say this. We’ve said the commandment that’s recapped in Galatians 5:14 the entire law is fulfilled in keeping one commandment: love your neighbor as yourself. God’s word helps guide a mission and that is love.
If I don’t know what to do, if I’m wondering how to set this company up, maybe I start with a burden to start a company, but then I realize the company won’t be worth anything if it doesn’t meet the needs of the world. Then I start to look at specific parts of God’s word to understand how God’s word would guide it.
I’m going to cover a side road and get back on the main path. The biggest mistake people make — both Christians and non-christians — is we see God’s law as something that is burdensome. Something that is ruling over our lives and keeping us from having more fun or making more money. But really there’s more joy in following how we are made. That’s really the surrender we need to see because every time we’ve tested it, it’s true. Every time we follow God’s command to love others, we receive great joy back.
The psalmist in Psalm 116 says, “You make known to me the path of life. You will fill me with joy in your presence with eternal pleasures at your right hand” In Romans, right after it talks about not judging people’s missions or what they eat, it says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him so you will overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” And then a few verses later Paul says, “Therefore, I glory in Christ Jesus in my work to God.” It is joyful when you can declare what your mission is and meet those needs with your gifts and resources in a way that you can really solve. A burden you can really solve.
Yes, you need to rely on your gifts and strengths, and we will cover that in the next podcast. But, whether it’s a burden for something you think isn’t right. I’m working with a couple people like that right now. Some of them are just kinda upset with how the current organization is run. Maybe their input isn’t valued. Maybe people aren’t sharing profits correctly.
Those are internally focused burdens. So if I set this thing up to serve the needs of the world, whether it’s in financial services, marketing, or advertising, I’m going to set it up in a way that allows everyone to be refreshed and renewed in this company. The purpose of the business isn’t to enrich the owners. That’s a burden worth having. If you want something for yourself, you should want it for others too. That’s a classic love your neighbor as yourself.
Things that bother you are not a bad place to start. Those things that bother you can be about your city, the world, your local community, etc. Hey, do we have the assets, resources, strengths, and gifts to do that? That’s classic strategic planning. What are the strengths we have to address the needs of the opportunities we see?
How To Stay On Mission
Lastly, once we know our mission, how do we deliver on that mission? Declaring what your mission is helps you stay on mission. Then you use the mission, and even antagonists will use your mission to help you stay on mission — especially if you’re a public company. If you’re not, your board should hold you accountable to your mission.
So the fact that Coke is one of the biggest polluters in the world, but when you dig into their annual reports they have specific strategies of using previous plastics. They have specific strategies to address those problems. They are doing that with carbon, plastic, and other materials they are using. You could go even further and say if you are refreshing the world, are you delivering water to those places? Coke is a massive brand which contains many brands within it. They have a water brand, a sports brand, etc.
In Mexico, Coke is one of the main things people drink. Their tap water is not as clean as ours is in America, and many people in Mexico substitute Coke for some of their water. This is similar to what Guinness beer did back in the day. The water wasn’t clean so people were going crazy drinking gin. Guinness was a happy medium that saved the U.K. In a way, Coke is doing that in Mexico right now. Now, could it be better than giving them Coke? Yes, it probably could. Could we give them water instead? Hopefully, Coke is being held accountable by their board.
With Facebook we saw how a company's stated mission can be appealed to when the actions of the company get off track. One of the people who worked for Facebook found data that Facebook was tearing the world apart. So she left, became a whistleblower, and testified in front of congress. The mission helped her do that. Missions help people do that even when the company is only focused on how they can make more money. The data tells us people are engaged, and the data tells us people like controversy. Oh, there’s nothing new about liking controversy, that was true before they created their mission.
Then, Chick-Fil-A is another company that has a good mission. Their mission is “to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-Fil-A.” Well, they found out that antibiotics aren’t good for people. So they set a goal to eliminate antibiotics from their supply chains, and they did. Those are the types of things to consider in light of your corporate mission.
Right now, milkshakes, if I’m getting a milkshake per day, that probably isn’t good for me. However, 3 a month isn’t bad. Are they going to do something about sugar? I don’t know, but that’s the type of thing where if I’m a good influence on everyone, I might constantly look at the better way. They offer kale salad now. It’s a delicious kale salad; I recommend it.
Another example is from a friend of mine in Louisiana. GMFS is a mortgage lender headquartered in Baton Rouge led by my friend Tee Brown. Their mission is to change lives, and that’s really for all stakeholders.
They were challenged with this deeply during COVID. Their employees were scattered, so what do we do for them? They had all these strategies to keep them connected. Restaurants were also suffering and so were the homeless. GMFS created a solution for all 3.
People didn’t want to take out loans, so they decided to get their employees involved in the community by going to restaurants, hosting events, and serving the homeless. Quickly, after the initial shock from COVID when interest rates dropped like crazy, they realized their revenues were going to be up, not down. So they decided to return the money they were going to receive from a PPP loan. They thought keeping the money was inconsistent with their mission, so they gave millions and millions of dollars back. They cared about the community and they didn’t want to take taxpayer money to do that. That’s an example of sticking to your mission.
If they were down and not up, that’s different. That was the intent behind the PPP loan, but there are many institutions who didn’t need the PPP loan who kept the money. But, here’s a lender, who is a means-based entity, who decided to care for the community by giving the money back.
They cared for their employees. They highlighted restaurants that were suffering, and they used some of their money to care for the homeless and feed people throughout the city. So that’s an example. If we say we care about people and our community, that’s an example of doing it in a way consistent with their mission.
So it’s not just about saying it, it’s about also doing your mission and acting in a way that is consistent with it. God’s word is clear on this point. God tells us to be a doer, not just a hearer.
We shouldn’t write a company mission if we don’t believe it. But, just because a few bad corporate actors have acted in a way that is inconsistent with their mission doesn’t mean we can’t set the example for others. GMFS is an example of doing that well and there are plenty of companies in Memphis living out their mission. And, we can do the same and when we do, we’ll find there is more joy in serving the needs of others and staying on mission.