Sunday, January 24, 2010

Creating a Core (aka A Mission Statement that makes sense)

Note: I'm currently re-reading many of the topics of discussion in Made to Stick, and the follow-up hit Switch in Built to Last, a breakaway statistical work by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras published in 1994. I've noticed that much of the Heaths' materials are sourced, digested, updated and repackaged ideas from other authors' works. This isn't a knock against them, but an acknowledgement to the Authors who provided stepping stones. Something about an "Old" Book makes me worry the material is dated, overused or irrelevant - Rarely true. Well-composed ideas are universal, and it's the reader's job to recognize opportunities for application, which are the only true things that change. The effective updating and repackaging of ideas is what progress is all about. Also note that the Heaths openly acknowledge the works they source from (more than I can say for some Authors these days), and Collins and Porras can certainly thank them for the royalties that came from my purchase of their book. Now, please enjoy the post.... - TW

I’ve been reading “Made to Stick” (henceforth “M2S”) by brothers Dan and Chip Heath, which needs to be on the nightstand of every business development specialist. Every-single-page in this book is 24 karat gold. While the as-titled theme of the book is how to make your messages sticky (ie: remembered well enough to influence behavior), there’s a ton of great takeaway for business development.

The best example of this is the discussion of the “Core” of your business. M2S discusses Core in the sense that it must be Sticky, and they delve into examples of Core as-used by Herb Kelleher at Southwest Airlines, and Hoover Adams at the Dunne Daily Record – how Simple-yet-Specific Core Messages (or, Mission-Statements) can guide the decisions of every member of the organization in nearly every situation by combining a clear organization-wide objective with their own built-in human intuition. A Core (or a Mission Statement) serves the purpose of a guiding North Star for everyone associated with your organization. No matter where you are, separated by time and distance, you have that guiding light to make decisions you know are right by the whole.

That’s great, except, in many businesses I’ve worked with, there was no Core; or if there was one, certainly no one was reminded of, let alone guided by it! I know, it’s post-1980’s and no one wants to be defined by something as simple as one little sentence and we’re all a million different people from one day to the next, blahbleh. Unique Snowflakes out there, take heed of Tolstoy’s quote from Anna Karenina: “All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Apply that to business, and be on your way.

So, you need a Core. This can be intimidating. Simple-yet-Specific seems pretty confining, so it’d better be good. Say you were to try to create a Core for your own life; a Rule by which every decision in your life would take into consideration. If your Core was “I am, THE fastest guy in my town.”, that might affect everything from your diet and workout routine to your choice in town you live in. Sure, it’s Simple-yet-Specific, but when you draw out the permutations of how this Golden Rule of your Core might change your life, it gives you pause. You’re not certain you want to be the fastest guy in your town bad enough to eat only bran and chicken, work a job that allows for your stringent training regiment and live in a town populated by un-athletic citizens exclusively. Let’s leave off Self-Coring for now and get back to business.

For a business, finding a Core is a bit easier. I’ve come up with a few questions to help develop one. The first is “What do I want our clients to expect from us?” More specifically: If you imagine your Ideal Client, someone with a need that’s right in your wheelhouse, what kind of expectations do you want them to have at the outset so that they’re more than 100% satisfied when you deliver? The second is “What is the single thing the organization shall prioritize over profitability?” for the sake of argument, let’s ignore the priority of the general safety, health and well-being of staff and clients – unless that is your specific business (lucky you!). More specifically: Clients do not walk through your doors seeking only to provide you business (unless they’re your grandparents). Clients come looking for a product or service to be delivered to them in a certain way. They have an expectation of what it is you will provide in turn for their monies. They should not invent this expectation on their own – it should be clear to them, via the Core. M2S’s example of Southwest uses “We are THE low-fare airline.”; OK, clients know it, employees know it, everyone’s on the same page. Adams’s Dunne Daily Record operates on a similar principle that exemplifies his relentless local-news focus – “Names, Names, and Names”; OK, if I’m a reporter, I know what I’m shooting for; if I’m a subscriber, I know what I’m expecting. It’s not exciting, it’s not unexpected. People are paying their hard-earned money here… this isn’t a magic show, no one’s paying to be surprised. The third question kind of encompasses the first two, that is: “What single idea or concept do I want to run through the mind of every member of my organization before they make a decision?” Specifically, what are our clients expecting, and what is it we’ve agreed to provide them, regardless of profits?

So here it is: A Core from which we can build our own.
[Company Name] strives to provide (Inexpensive/Quality), (Prompt/Deliberate), (Reasonable/Accurate) (Products/Services) to (Niche Market) Clients.

Mix-and-match as necessary and remember that out of Done Cheap, Done Fast and Done Right, you can only have 2. Simple and Specific don’t have to be Polar ends of the spectrum, and you don’t have to sacrifice one to gain in the other. “We are THE Low Fair Airline” and “Names, Names, Names” are super-brief examples that shine bright to every wayward employee, client and vendor. Here’s another by a company called Sonicbids, an online networking service for … well, you’ll see: “We want to help musicians get gigs, and promoters book the right bands. We’re a bunch of people who think music can truly change the world, and make it smaller and better.” Simple? Check. Specific? Double-check. When Suzy the Intern gets an idea to create a genre-based rating system so bands and promoters can give feedback other users can use to make better selections, she’s got a pretty good idea that contributes to the Core. However, when she considers an offer for local music shops in the area bands are touring to pitch them ads for sound equipment, she should recognize that, though potentially useful, it’s not helping Sonicbids get closer to their Core.

In business development, it's too easy to get caught up in the generic demands that come with bringing a product or service to market. Nowadays everyone's burning endless brain-calories stressing over server-racks and marketing campaigns; hurdles every operation has to leap that have nothing to do with direction or expectation. The temptation to draw out plans to endless (and useless) degrees of detail is powerful. However, without a Core to guide the decision-making process, opposing forces only negate each other and waste energy. A Core keeps everyone rowing in the same direction.

So, work to develop a Core. Set yourself, your members, clients and vendors a North Star to guide you through all the little decisions that make your organization what it is.

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