04/29/2020

Focus your post-pandemic evolution with familiar strategy tools

I’m at my kitchen table working on my laptop. I spend so much time on it now, my phone is getting jealous. My dog is barking, my son joined his Zoom science class beside me, and my daughter is hungry. It’s an hour past lunch time. And, of course, I have a call in five minutes to discuss how to keep our business going and our teams engaged.

It’s a typical day of “sheltering-in-place” in a world that changed overnight, and a fight we’re all fighting. The crisis has made it hard to stay focused, and even harder to think about long-term business strategy, especially as we try to stop the bleeding and get back on our feet.

But, strategic planning is a critical exercise right now – even if it feels like a distant priority. The world has changed, and while things may go back to a “new normal,” we have to plan for what it is and strengthen our customer and employee experiences to grow quickly when we get there.

As you go through that process, it’s important to re-acquaint yourself with the set of strategic tools that are designed to focus your plans:

Re-visiting how these tools can help you forge a path through the coming months will not only drive meaningful strategies, it will inspire the kind of engagement you need from employees to come out stronger in the new normal. Let’s look at each with fresh eyes.

 

PURPOSE

Why does organizational purpose matter? There’s been a lot of talk about it over the past few years, and the data shows that most corporate leaders understand what it is and feel theirs is solid. In a study from EY Partners and HBR in 2015, 90 percent of executives surveyed said their company understands the importance of purpose. The problem, though, is widespread confusion over its role. In the same EY Partners/HBR study, only 46 percent said that purpose informs their strategic and operational decision-making. And a similar PWC study indicates that a mere third agree purpose is a guidepost for leadership decision-making.

And herein lies the challenge.

If you’re not using your purpose to influence business decisions, employees won’t feel it in the culture, and they won’t feel their work contributes to a larger goal. Eventually they’ll become a part of the 85 percent of employees surveyed by Gallup in 2019 who reported that they are either not engaged or actively disengaged at work.

More simply said, employees who don’t feel the meaning behind their work struggle to feel that their work is meaningful.

Employee engagement pays more benefits than higher morale. A more recent study from Gallup showed that engaged employees produce better business outcomes no matter the industry, company size, global location or economic state; less absenteeism, more productivity, happier customers, and, as a result, a 21 percent bump in profitability versus less engaged workplaces.

Most people agree that purpose declares why an organization exists. The tricky part is that it must be simultaneously driven by leadership and felt across departments, divisions, cultures and geographies within an organization.

For purpose to be effective, it should engage the hearts and minds of leaders and employees in a way that inspires transformation… and it should last for decades. It’s uncovered by listening to needs of customers, culling down the convictions of leaders and employees, and understanding the real capabilities of the organization.

The ultimate benefit is to inspire a company to evolve and manage through change strategically – an especially important exercise for mature companies and those that have grown through acquisition. Clarity of purpose often is the one thing that helps employees understand change and stay engaged.

A meaningful purpose might sound like these:

Ask yourself as you consider your new normal, does your purpose address these questions:

Purpose requires more than hanging it on the office walls. Like any tool, it only works when used. And it will be even more important for it to be relevant and enduring as we come out of this crisis. Craft it to guide your cultural and strategic initiatives, and it will be impossible for employees to feel their work is meaningless.  

 

MISSION

Where purpose is inspirational, mission is motivational. It defines what your company does day in and day out to serve customers in a way that brings purpose to life.

It helps your teams evaluate whether or not they’re delivering on your company’s purpose. Strong mission statements clearly depict what a business meaningfully offers. The words should be direct and specific, reminding employees of the promise you’re making to the world and the value you are providing to customers.

In a world where thousands of companies compete against each other, differentiation is hard to come by. And in an environment where flawlessly meeting customers’ changing needs drives growth, focus will be critical. Your mission should re-frame what you do in a way that is focused on impact – making meaningful connections with customers.

The missions of our example companies above might read like this:

Does your mission answer these questions:

A mission reminds us what we get up to do every day, offers meaningful clarity in what we deliver, and keeps companies honest by asking the everyday question of whether or not they are making good on their promises. In our new normal, use a clear mission to keep teams focused on delivering what’s most important.

  

VISION

Vision is a misunderstood tool, often the mistaken doppelgänger of purpose or mission. Its real role is to provide an ambitious, measurable goal that the company can accomplish in a period of time in service of purpose. A great example of vision is the one that President Kennedy set for NASA (and the U.S.) in 1961: To land a man on the moon, before this decade is out, and return him safely to Earth. Eight years later, the Apollo 11 did just that.

Using our same company examples as earlier, a few vision statements may read like this:

Does your vision answer these questions?

An effective vision establishes what you’re going to do and how it will help deliver on your purpose and mission. Well-crafted, it gives employees a tangible finish line and directs company-wide business initiatives to make it a reality.

Create an effective vision by setting a shared goal with enough boldness that inspires employees to pursue it and enough clarity so that it can be pursued. And consider how our new normal might impact what you’re really reaching for.

 

VALUES (aka BELIEFS)

Values are a powerful cultural tool – the secret ingredient in recruiting and the glue that creates a healthy tribe and sense of community. As we move through and ultimately past this crisis, values become even more important in binding teams together.

We’ve recently started using the word “beliefs” in place of “values,” because while values describe something held as important, beliefs imply conviction – a declarative tone that elevates their importance. Like purpose, values are created out of your company’s existing behaviors, but they should represent the highest standard of those behaviors.

Interestingly, the work to codify them often turns up critical inhibitors we call “shadow values.” These are the unacknowledged convictions that get in the way of a company’s ability to transform. As an example, a company with a value around ingenuity might have a shadow value called “Been there, done that” which prevents ingenuity from flourishing. Declaring your shadow values is an opportunity to intentionally develop beliefs that eradicate bad habits and optimize culture.

They don’t need to be thematically different than those of other companies, but the words that define them should be. Language adds personality for a culture that distinguishes it in powerful ways from competitors and emotionally resonates with employees. Unique and actionable values/beliefs could read something like this:

Values (or beliefs) are the instructions for how workforces behave. Define them thoughtfully from the existing culture and craft them with ownable language.

  

EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCE (EX)

Let’s be honest. Just because you say you have values doesn’t mean you start behaving differently. You need an employee experience strategy for embedding them into your culture. Ultimately, EX is an infrastructure that enables and motivates employees to deliver your business strategy with passion. Our model for building a strong EX includes three legs:

To be blunt, companies need to think hard about how each of these are showing up in their cultures. This is where the rubber hits the road in the effort to engage employees and keep them productive and excited. And this crisis is only escalating the importance of EX. Once the adrenaline of pulling together wears off – which may have already happened in your organization – an evolved EX can drive growth.

Investigate each of these elements and be honest about how to prioritize what needs to change. It’s the first step in making this complex strategic challenge digestible. The insights gained from doing this will help you prioritize the activities needed to build a culture capable of driving any transformation – be it digital, a merger, an acquisition or evolution of your products and services.

Crafting a strong EX is not only as important as building your CX, it’s an essential strategy to ensuring its success. Set priorities on what needs to improve and create a plan that empowers leaders to activate it.

Your long-term strategy for growth depends on you reaching back into that toolbox, and using these tools with a clear understanding of how they can support your strategy. And in the current climate, it’s time to lean in on these tools, not lean back. Be proactive in understanding them, re-imagining them and activating them inside your organization. They will focus your path forward and enable a culture willing and able to drive transformation – regardless of whether it’s in the corporate offices or at the kitchen table.

At Joe Smith, we help companies find meaningful change and growth in their products, people and businesses. (And we’re not too bad to hang out with, either.) If you’re ready to transform your corporate brand and culture, we’re here to help. Just reach out here.

Christian Markow is Founding Partner of Joe Smith, a brand consultancy built to help companies find meaningful change and growth in their products, people and businesses. You can reach him at [email protected]