Missional Intent

Sales, employees, profits, procurement, delivery. We all have a long to-do list of things we need to accomplish to make sure the wheels don’t come off. It is a tornado whirling around everything we do and sucking us into its vortex. This vortex is spinning everything and constantly twirling and pulling us into urgency. But our urgency is never directed toward getting out of the storm.

Ignoring the storm doesn’t make it go away. We must be honest about the battle we are fighting daily in order to survive the effects of the storm and rise above the fray. We need to know our long-term direction. We need to know our mission.

Many small business owners roll their eyes at mission statement exercises, and I get it. It is hard to see the benefit of these very abstract activities like this. However, there may be some benefit for your business in spending time on long-term strategy. If you have employees or plan to have employees in the future, defining your mission is critical for alignment. Research shows people don’t know how their daily activities connect in the larger context of the organization they work for.

The Anatomy of Work Index, which surveyed over 10,000 knowledge workers, found that just 43% of people understood their organization’s overarching mission and less than half of all employees understood how their day-to-day work contributed to broader goals.

Anatomy of Work Index

This lack of team connection to long-term purpose has a detrimental effect on the health of your company and hinders your ability to grow. It reinforces a culture of chaos and leads to a lack of meaning in work. Connecting work to the mission not only motivates your employees, but it will bring meaning to you as the business leader as well.

A Rallying Cry

In order to connect our day to day work with a mission requires you to define where you’d like the company to go. This is actually a difficult question to answer. If you are anything like me the abstract, unknown nature of questions like this can be very frustrating. However, that doesn’t mean the excercise isn’t important. As a leader our primary role is keeping our team focused on the direction we are heading. SoAs the leader of our company, we need to know what is essential to protect.

The question that needs to be answered is: “What are the most important activities to protect for us to thrive in the future?”.

Once you have this answer, you need to turn this into a rallying cry. A rallying cry is a simple vision statement that people can remember. No matter what problems we are dealing with in the day-to-day, the rallying cry provides orientation and direction in the midst of the storm.

Microsoft famously created a rallying cry in the 1980s to “Put a computer on every desktop”. They clearly achieved this with every desk having a computer and 90% of those computers running Microsoft software. Intel created a rallying cry in the 1970s to move from the price competitive computer memory market to the microprocessor industry. They called it Operation Crush and with a monopolistic market share in the 1990s, they succeeded.

A rallying cry is different than a mission statement. I think there is value in mission statements, but the rallying cry is a vision statement of what you would like to accomplish in the future. It is a long-term goal that you are pushing toward and aligning your team behind. While a mission statement shouldn’t change, your rallying cry may change after it is achieved. In fact, it needs to change. Microsoft struggled in the 2000s and their stock price stalled for almost a decade because they didn’t replace their rallying cry with a new one. It was only after Satya Nadella became CEO and created a new rallying cry to move to the cloud that Microsoft start back into a growth path.

Rallying Cry Examples

Rallying cries need to be clear and motivating for you and your team. They can be stated as a specific goal or they can be a description of what you would like your company to become in the future.

Here are some examples:

  • Target Oriented
    • Become a $125 billion company by 2000. (Wal-Mart, 1990)
    • Become the dominant player in commercial aircraft and bring the world into the jet age. (Boeing, 1950)
  • Common Enemy
    • Crush Adidas. (Nike, 1960s)
    • Yamaha wo tsubusu! We will destroy Yamaha! (Honda, 1970s)
  • Role Model
    • Become the Nike of the cycling industry. (Giro Sport Design, 1986)
    • Become as respected in 20 years as Hewlett-Packard is today. (Watkins-Johnson, 1996)
  • Internal Transformation
    • Transform this company from a defense contractor into the best diversified high-technology company in the world. (Rockwell, 1995)
    • Transform this company from a chemical manufacturer into one of the preeminent drug-making companies in the world. (Merck, 1930s)

From “Building Your Company’s Vision” by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras

A Decade in the Making

Most of the successful rallying cries that I have seen have a target date more than ten years in the future. The long-term nature of a vision like this keeps you above the current noise of the marketplace. It keeps you from being pulled into each little fad or change. It keeps you focused on what will continue to provide value to your customer. This focus on long-term value can not be overstated and is one of the keys to creating your own conditions of success.

“I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. … [I]n our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Impossible. And so the effort we put into those things, spinning those things up, we know the energy we put into it today will still be paying off dividends for our customers 10 years from now. When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.”

– Jeff Bezos

Think about your own business. What will your customer still want in 10 years? What can you do from now until then to relentlessly pursue getting better and better at giving this to them? If you can stay the course on this strategy for the long run, you are guaranteed to create a future that will favor the outcome you desire.

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