Founding business beliefs: Don’t vote them off the island just yet
OK, I admit it, I’m a big Survivor fan. I’ve watched it from the beginning, and I don’t miss an episode. But before I lose all credibility, it’s the only reality TV show I watch. And why are they even called reality TV? From what I see on the preview commercials, they all look more like “non-reality.” But I digress.
So how does this relate to business? I need to go back a bit. We recently reevaluated our company’s “foundational documents.” These include things like our mission statement, vision statement, belief statement, etc.
When we did this, we also questioned whether we needed all these statements as there were eight different ones. Could we consolidate or eliminate any? There was one easy gain as our objective statement from our strategic plan was very similar to our vision statement. That makes a lot of sense, as I recall when we were working on our strategic plan and I was trying to explain an objective statement, I said think of it like a vision statement. It seems obvious, in hindsight, that we probably should’ve just aligned with our vision statement, but at least we’re getting that cleaned up now!
As we worked through these documents with a group of 11 people, we progressed surprisingly efficiently. However, as we concluded a meeting, we were a little stuck on one particular document: our statement of beliefs. This document was conceived at the very beginning of the bank over 30 years ago by our founder Jerry Smith and the original handful of employees. One notable thing about it is that it’s very client focused. But that makes sense when you think of it from a historical context like you would any other “ancient manuscript” as, at the beginning, a new business better be very client focused. If you don’t gain enough clients, you’re not going to survive (see what I did there).
Also, having been written before businesses had “hedgehog strategies” or “fly wheels” or before they “pivoted,” it wasn’t full of current business jargon. You could say it’s a bit folksy, and I might counter that it’s relatable. Then you might say the grammar isn’t perfect, but I’d add it’s easily understandable. In the meeting, there was a hint of sentiment that sometimes in recruiting new employees it didn’t always resonate as well as our core competencies or the work we have done with the Ideal Team Player to convey our culture. As to rewording it, I really didn’t like that idea. My take was to use it as is or don’t use it — I said something about not editing the writing on a cave wall (I admit I can be given to hyperbole). As our meeting time ran out, we wondered whether this was a document we still needed.
Afterward, I wondered if I was just old school and not in touch with the current consensus. I reluctantly said to our head of marketing, “Maybe it’s not as relevant anymore.” She then put a message out to the group working on this project, asking if they thought we should move it a bit more to the background (for example, we currently talk about it in every staff meeting). The responses were quick and very much one-sided. Here are two examples: “I like the plain English way we say things in the document and I like the history it represents,” and “the statement of beliefs did resonate with me when I was coming on board with First Business Bank. I had not been with a company which I felt put as much emphasis on their culture, and that was important when I made my decision.”
After the sixth or so email in a row saying how much it resonated with them, I was, for some reason, reminded of when someone gets voted off on Survivor. But in this case it was the opposite — something wasn’t getting voted off the island. I also admitted that it “warmed my heart” to read their responses.
So, as we looked at these foundational documents, I think the lesson is that it’s important for an organization to remember its roots — where you came from and the principles upon which the company was founded. These early documents, like our statement of beliefs, can be the cornerstone of a company’s cultural foundation and serve as a true north.
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