Wholehearted Leadership Opinion: Know your what, why and how

Articulating the purpose of your business and keeping it simple will motivate your employees

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A higher purpose: St. Paul’s Cathedral, London

Articulating the purpose of your business and keeping it simple will motivate your people

A story is told of three stonemasons working on St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, sometime between 1675 and 1710. They were all asked the same question: “What are you doing?” 
The first man answered, “I’m mixing mortar.”
The second man replied, “I’m helping to build the south wall.”
The third man declared, “I’m working to build the most glorious cathedral the world has ever seen. A place where heaven meets Earth, where men transcend the common into the divine.”
All three were engaged in the same activity, but they each saw it differently. The third man saw a far bigger picture than the others. He brought significant vision and meaning to his work. This, I suspect, had an impact on the quality of his work and the depth of his commitment and motivation.
What kind of people do you want to have working with you? I’m fairly certain that you want people like the third man. It is the leader’s job to create envisioned employees. It is not very often that employees arrive at a business envisioned—leaders instill that in them.
I’m confident that we want to work with envisioned, engaged, passionate and purposeful people. We want to be that kind of person as well. So, how do we lead ourselves and our people into that kind of state?
We’re encouraged as leaders to craft a set of mission, vision and values statements for our organizations. Which is good. What we often see are mission, vision and values statements hanging on office walls. Which, again, is all good. But these documents can often be long and convoluted in an attempt to say everything that needs to be said.
When I owned and led my marketing agency, there was a principle we regularly attempted to adhere to: Keep it simple. The propensity of every client was to say too much in whatever medium we were working in. The logo had to somehow communicate everything about the essence of their company. The billboard had to include so much content that it was rendered useless. The ads could end up as essays if we included everything the client wanted to say.
Keep it simple!
The same is true with mission, vision and values statements. They have to be concise enough for your people to actually understand and remember them. They shouldn’t be long-winded and convoluted. Your people need to be able to simply own them and all they represent.    
Also, I think the terms themselves can be confusing. How is our mission different from our vision? What exactly do we mean by values? So, I propose we use the terms “what,” “why” and “how.”
What do we do? Why do we do it? How do we do it? Try to articulate each one in seven or fewer words.
What you need is a simple statement about the essence of your product or service. However, make it distinctive: call your people to a higher vision beyond what’s obvious.
Do you sell cars? Or do you keep people moving forward in style? Do you build condos? Or do you create enjoyable and lasting communities?
Why do you do it? What’s going to motivate your people to get up and go to work every day? It has to be about more than making money. Your people want to be part of a vision greater than themselves to elevate them above the tedium of daily tasks.
When I had my agency, our why was to make the world a better place. We did that by what we did, but more importantly by how we did it. How we interacted with people to improve their life and business. And we did it by how we used our profit philanthropically.
How do you do it? These are your values. Spell something with it to make it easy for your people to remember. For example: CARE—commitment, attitude, respect, equality.
Leaders must continually tell the stories behind all these terms to bring the definition that guides behaviour and outcomes. Your stories also create the stickiness for your content.
How clear are you and your people on your what, why and how? In seven words or less, please.
David MacLean empowers CEOs, entrepreneurs and executives to dare greatly in his role as B.C. best practice chair for The Executive Committee Canada (TEC). David also writes and speaks on Wholehearted Leadership: inspiring, encouraging and equipping leaders to harness their most valuable asset—their HEART. You can reach him at dmaclean@tec-canada.com.