A vision statement is important

But don’t forget the why

By Don Harkey

When I was at 3M, I was assigned to a team to look at the quality and profitability of a long-time product. When the team leader assembled the team, he quickly learned that many of the operators didn’t know what the product was or what it did, even though some of them had been making it for years. So the team leader arranged for a product demonstration. 

The product was a concrete deck coating. During the demonstration members of the team recognized applications of the product in real life that they and their families had seen but had never been aware of before. The operators were noticeably excited, and some even got emotional. One operator pointed out, “I spend a lot of time at work, and now I can show my family what I do.” 

After the demonstration our team was pulled into different directions before we could work on the quality and cost of making the product. We reassembled a few months later to restart the project and took some new baselines for quality and cost. We were surprised to see that since the product demonstration, the quality for the product had improved dramatically, and the cost to make the product had decreased significantly. We hadn’t changed anything other than showing the people who make the product why they were making it.

Knowing why we do what we do is an important, yet often forgotten, part of our work. When we know why we do what we do, we do it better.

We recently worked with a manufacturing client who makes whiskey barrels. While out visiting its Kentucky Cooperage, our team took an extra day to tour the Maker’s Mark Distillery. During the tour the guide mentioned its valuable partner in the Independent Stave Company (our client) multiple times. Even though we hadn’t started our work with Independent Stave, our team felt a wave of pride as we sampled the bourbon, and the tour guide talked about the importance of the barrel process in the flavor profile.

We shared our experience with the workers at Independent Stave, and they were naturally excited. One supervisor said it was nice to hear the impact they make and so easy to forget. One of the easiest things you can do for your team is to help them remember why they do what they do. Here are a few ways to do that.

1. Share customer stories.

If you don’t get much customer feedback, you should seek it out and share it with your team. Numbers are good, but stories are more powerful. 

2. Expose workers to the other parts of the business.

Many workers play a relatively limited role in the production of their product or execution of their service. Allow workers from different departments to share with each other what they do and how it impacts the final product or service.

3. Show the score.

Too many companies fail to share the results of their work with their employees. Don’t assume that employees care about profit. You may have to share how profit impacts them.

4. Create a strategic plan.

People need context for their performance. Create a strategic plan with clear key objectives and a plan for the year so that you can compare progress toward the plan. 

5. Establish values. 

Too many organizations haven’t spent time articulating their missions, visions or values. Having these items defined gives leaders daily opportunities to refer to their values when making decisions. The mission, vision and values become language around the “why.”

6. Leaders should refer to the why.

Notice that I say leaders and not managers. Anyone on a team wishing to be a positive influence can do so simply by reminding the team from time to time why they are doing what they do. Little reminders make a big difference and aren’t reserved just for managers.

WHY = The Purpose

What is your cause? What do you believe?

Apple: We believe in challenging the status quo and doing this differently.

HOW = The Process

Specific actions taken to realize the Why.

Apple: Our products are beautifully designed and easy to use.

WHAT = The Result

What do you do? The result of Why. Proof.

Apple: We make computers.


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