I recently took on a small client. They were expressing concer about certain expenditures and had some doubts as to how they could be relevant or necessary to their organization.
I listened patiently and then I asked, "Could you humor me and tell me the purpose of your organization?" The client told me the purpose of their organization. I told them that that is their mission, or purpose and that any decision that is made needs to answer the question, how does this support or fulfill the mission?
Larger organizations and companies have missions statements or other phrases. For some it's a bunch of words, but it is the foundation and the compass for your business. All businesses were founded with a purpose in mind beyond making profit. I once met a real estate agent who didn't sell houses, they told me that they help families realize the American dream. Car dealers do not sell cars, they sell a means of transportation that reflects the owners status or style and allows a person to earn a living or run a business to support themselves and their family.
No matter how large your organization grows or how many years later it may be, your purpose will be your guiding principle and will help keep your business from going too far from its intended purpose.
Profit will insure that you open the doors to your business tomorrow, purpose will insure that you open the doors to your business years from now.
"We are in the people business and happen to use money as a way to serve the needs of the people" - former Frost CEO Joe Frost as retold by Tom Frost chairman emeritus.
This was a statement that Tom Frost's great uncle made to him many years ago. What a fascinating way for a leader to see their business. Mr. Frost's great uncle did not say they were in the banking business, or the lending business, they are in the people business. Money is not the object or goal, it was a way to serve the needs of people.
People may say this is from a time that has long since passed, that the emphasis is on money, productivity, the bottom line, shareholder value.
As small business owners, we are more wary of the bottom line because of our size. But the truth is all small business owners are in the people business. Clients do business with us because they are not an account number, they are John or Jane. Clients don't speak with a customer service representative or a sales agent, they speak to us, the owners. In some cases we can talk about how our families are doing because we have that connection.
I have read articles from marketing and sales consultants that emphasize that people don't want to do business with a company, they want to do business with people. They want to connect with the person they are working with or getting services from. This is why Joe Frost's statement may be even more valid today than it was then, and an important lesson for small business owners as well.
Penn States recent events present a cautionary tale for any leader. Knowing about a situation and not doing anything about it can be as bad as committing the act itself. Having a mission statement, core values or talking about values based leadership is all good, but as leaders it is up to us to uphold these values.
Our employees and teams turn to us and look to us for direction and guidance, but also to see are we living our values and leading our organizations by its values?
In the case of the Penn State matter, leaders either knew and did little or did nothing. Regardless of the reason, the result was the firing of the university president, the ouster of a legendary coach and adverse action from the NCAA. None of these leaders were directly involved with the incidents. But they were aware that something might be wrong. This reminds us that as leaders we can be held accountable not only for doing wrong but also for doing nothing to right a wrong. How many large businesses have lost litigation because an executive had knowledge about retribution against a whistle blower or knowledge of a hostile working environment?
As leaders we must ensure that we have mechanisms in place to help uphold our core values:
Do the right thing
Encourage others to do the right thing
Ensure there are channels for feedback
Make sue to fully understand the feedback and its implications.
The sad part of this is that some people forgot that they were not just a football program; they were an institution of higher learning. They prepare the leaders of tomorrow, which was part of their mission. It would appear that the university's leaders wanted to protect the money and fame they received from the football program instead of protecting the institution or the victims. Core values were never designed to protect wealth or fame; they were designed to protect institutions from the negative effects of wealth or fame.