A few years ago, I wrote the following (internal) blog entitled, “See something? Do something!” It was meant to empower my employees to take charge of some of our company’s challenges. I wanted them to help me and my executive team solve them. To my surprise, it set the stage for one of the most remarkable transformations in our people.
(This is an abridged and edited version.)
In New York City, there has been heightened security ever since the tragedies of 9/11. In the years that followed, the City’s officials worked diligently (over ten years) to develop ways to protect their citizens no matter what the threat. During the process, at some point, they realized that they could not possibly be everywhere at once. They needed help.
They decided to get the citizens involved. They agreed that if they were going to build a safer city, they needed the citizens to be part of the equation; part of the safety net.
The solution was a simple campaign called, “If You See Something, Say Something.” This simple phrase does a couple of critical things. First, it makes it instantly clear that everyone has a role to play in making the city safer. Second, it makes the call to action very clear. This phrase is plastered in all the major public areas (in particular on the subways) in NYC. Because of it, I now find myself more alert, aware of my surroundings and ready to help. All I need to do is (1) notice any suspicious packages or otherwise, (2) alert a police officer, train or bus operator, station personnel or call a special toll-free number. That is just me. Well, there over 11 million people in NYC just like me probably feeling/acting the same way. That instantly gave the City’s security apparatus scale.
Our management team has some pretty significant challenges of our own. We are no longer a start-up, and we have a growing list of things to do to catch up with our growth. We are focused on finding ways to scale, build a better product, work more collaboratively as a team, and beat the competition. We need to drive more sales, manage our customers, operate live instances, communicate to the market better, plan better, get our message out to a broader market, recruit top talent and much more. The truth is we need help! After giving it some thought I recognized, we need every single person in our growing team to help make the company better.
I have had countless discussions with team members (not just management) old and new that talk about stuff that doesn’t work as well here, or how we need to make this or that better, or how we are missing some tools, and other necessary processes.
Most recently, during these conversations, after thanking folks for the feedback, I ask — “What are you going to do about it?” … I usually get a blank stare. Also, believe me, I was dead serious! I want it to be clear that every member of the team is officially empowered to fix something that is broken, or free to invent something that is missing, or even find something we have lost… Anything that will help make our company a better place and help us succeed! Each of you is a shareholder — this is your company.
So, don’t be shy. The next time you See Something, you go ahead and Do Something!
What happened next was surprising. Nothing happened. No one invented anything, no one fixed anything, and no one collaborated to think about how to help. I was shocked! For weeks, I wondered what was missing. Why wasn’t this team of amazing people coming together like the citizens of New York? Here is why.
Our company was growing. We moved from an early-stage start-up to functional departments, and we had experienced leaders heading them. Unfortunately, we were running a hierarchical process-oriented organization. All decisions were centralized and reviewed by the e-team (our abbreviation for “executive team”). In other words, everything was “run up the flagpole.” It is just how my team and I evolved to running the organization. We felt that as we grew, we needed more structure, more review, more approval processes to make decisions. We thought this would ensure better execution and problem-solving. We were mistaken. This approach created an organization that was no longer agile and responsive to market changes. The employees were not empowered and focused on a common mission. In fact, we had no real mission statement. As a result, our team just did their jobs. We wanted them to help us “fight the fight” and reach our goal of market leadership. However, we had not made it clear to them exactly where we were going.
A Mission Statement
The most successful companies are mission-driven. They open every team meeting by asking, “what’s our mission?” The word “our” in the sentence refers to the company, not their respective departments. “The mission statement you need in the company-building state is different. It’s for you and your company, not your customers,” says Steve Blank, author of The Four Steps to the Epiphany. “It tells everyone in specific terms why they come to work, what they need to do, and how they will know they have succeeded.”
A mission is something your company lives every day. Everyone must be aligned and bought into it. Some call it the “north star.”
In a growing company, the CEO must transition the team from a start-up, product-oriented organization to a company with a laser focus on a broad, future envisioned state. The CEO must also move from a doer/decision maker to a team builder, a communicator, and a vision setter.
In my blog, I assumed everyone was on the same page and felt empowered to act accordingly. It was just meant to be a reminder. How wrong I was! If you are like most founders and assume everyone knows the game plan, you need a wake-up call; like the one I received.
A few months later, we engaged the Catlin & Cookman Group to help us develop a strategic plan. We built a mission statement and much more (more on that in a future blog, perhaps). It had an immediate impact and helped to transform the team into an agile, mission-driven organization. Our best innovations and ultimate success came about after this shift. Everyone was “doing something.”
If you want your team to “see something, and do something,” you need them to be mission-driven. Everyone must be empowered to think about and do what is best for the company. As the CEO, it is up to you to make this happen.
The Plays: Building a Mission-Driven Organization
Here are some “plays” to get you started on creating a mission-driven team…
- Write a set of core values, if you have not already. These are the immutable laws that shape your company’s culture and its approach to everything.
- With the help of your co-founders and e-team draft a mission/vision statement. The very first question it answers should be, “why do we exist?” Once that’s clear, ask yourself four more “why” questions. Write a statement that contains the essential components mentioned above.
- Get alignment around the mission/ vision statement. It is probably one of the hardest things to do. But, it requires you to walk around speaking with members of your team beyond your immediate staff. Get into the minds of your team and gauge where they see your company going.
- Get each department to develop a mission statement derived from the company mission statement. What is the purpose of marketing, engineering, sales, etc.? Make sure they don’t write one that plainly lists the jobs or tasks they do. The functional missions are the goals that must be achieved to help the company mission. For instance, marketing is not about running webinars, writing press releases, or product brochures. That team’s goal is about generating demand, filling the sales funnel with that demand, educating the market and your sales teams, and delivering prescient market data to engineering.
- Empower your people. Trust them, give them freedom and teach them to run their departments like they are the CEOs of their functions.
- Remove members of your team who don’t fit the culture and the mission. Evaluate your entire team based on the new mission and vision. Do you have “the right people on the bus?”
- Over-communicate guidance, not direction. Repeat the company’s goals, mission, and vision every chance you get. It takes this constant repetition for it all to stick. Teach your e-team to do the same. They must replicate and reinforce the corporate and functional missions throughout the organization. Most important is the intent — what is this goal meant to accomplish? Provide guidance, not explicit directives.
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About the Author
John Belizaire is a serial B2B entrepreneur, advisor, and investor. He is also the editor of CEOPLAYBOOK.IO — a medium publication. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.