A Great Success Story
On June 4th, 1940 the British Empire was under imminent threat of invasion by German forces. Civilian morale in many areas of Britain was zero. Few believed Britain could prevail. Fewer still had the will to fight. Isolated, outmatched and facing overwhelming odds, Winston Churchill gave his speech to rally the British Empire to defend itself:
All great success stories have humble and often troubled beginnings. But before a great success is born, there is a vision that inspires people to be a part of the journey.
The British people, inspired by Winston Churchill’s vision and authenticity that day, would go on to spend their blood, toil, tears, and sweat to endure the Battle of Britain and ultimately achieve what few at the time believed was possible.
Simplify and Distill Your Company’s Great Success Story
Just like the people of Britain in 1940, your employees and investors thirst for a compelling story, a bold vision and an authentic message. By stripping away the clutter and jargon you can uncover the bold success story that lies at the foundation of your company.
You can start by clearly stating what need your company addresses, what makes it unique and your vision for future success. And you must do this without drowning your audience in detail.
Answering the following questions can help you simplify and distill your story:
What Problem Do You Solve? What Need Do You Address?
Some call it a mission statement. Some call it an elevator pitch. Whatever you call it, your first step is to summarize what need your company addresses or what problem your company solves. And you need to do it in one succinct sentence. If you find yourself stuck you might be overthinking things.
If your sentence is bland or generic then you’re probably being lazy or you’re being a chicken. Take lululemon for example. Their mission is:
Creating components for people to live longer, healthier, fun lives.
Components? Are they an automobile parts manufacturer? Instead, lululemon’s mission statement should be something like:
We enable active lives by fusing world class design and fabric technology to create the world’s most comfortable and attractive apparel.
You need to be specific, you need to be bold and you need to speak to the thing that differentiates you from everyone else. This is the foundation for every communication produced by your company. If you fail to clearly define your company, then every other message you create will sound contrived and inauthentic.
What is the Market Opportunity?
Part of talking about the need or the problem your company addresses is expressing, in dollar terms, its total market value. (Restrict yourself to the market you can reasonably address today)
At the risk of sounding insensitive, let’s take the case of a pharmaceutical company developing a treatment for pancreatic cancer. We could express the market opportunity this way:
53,760 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in Canada and the United States this year. With an average treatment cost of $61,700, combined their treatment will cost a staggering
Yet 75% of them will die within one year and 92% of them will die within 5 years.
Using statistics like this is a powerful way to impress upon your audience the size of the problem you seek to solve.
How is Your Company Unique?
Define what makes your company unique. Take General Electric and their mission statement:
GE imagines things others don’t, builds things others can’t and delivers outcomes that make the world work better. GE brings together the physical and digital worlds in ways no other company can. In its labs and factories and on the ground with customers, GE is inventing the next industrial era to move, power, build and cure the world.
I said “bold” right? You can almost hear the mic drop after you read GE’s mission/vision. Their statement is bold, vital and challenging. They clearly define what differentiates GE from other companies. What makes it even more impressive is that GE operates in many different industries. The more industries you operate in, the more difficult it will be to come up with a compelling vision that ties these industries together strategically.
Most companies operate in a single industry, which makes things much easier. If you’re one of these companies, you can accomplish wonders simply by talking about your specific role or niche in the industry vertical you are in.
Vision – How Do You Define Success?
One of Stephen Covey’s seven habits is to start with the end in mind. So what will your company look like five to ten years from now if it is successful? The long-term definition of success differs between companies. Whatever long-term “success” looks like to your company, you need to define it clearly and succinctly. This is often expressed as a company’s vision.
That said, if you’re struggling to come up with a vision you’re not alone. The number of fortune 500 companies that articulate a tangible vision/mission is frighteningly low. In addition, a Benchmark of Fortune 500 Vision and Mission Statements published by Kasowski et al. demonstrates how horribly uninspirational most companies are.
Kasowski et al. established the following useful criteria for a company’s vision statement:
- Future looking.
- Identifies a market space.
- Specific and realizable. (I am adding “measurable” to this one)
- Involves change.
Avoid Weasel Words
Weasel words and statements are intentionally ambiguous, misleading or unmeasurable. So don’t ruin your vision/mission statements by including any of these:
- We will be a (global) leader in / the premier / the leading / the most trusted / most dynamic / most admired / most respected / etc. (Note that none of the these statements are truly measurable)
- To be the best company in the world in the eyes of our customers, shareholders, communities and people.
- Dedicated to excellence
- Sustainable solutions
- Customer’s first choice / partner of choice
The challenge of coming up with a compelling vision may be the reason why vision statements are often underwhelming. In addition, it may also be the reason why the number of companies using them has dropped precipitously in recent years according to a study by Bain and Company. Don’t take your queues from companies that are failing to be visionary. They are missing out on a powerful opportunity to inspire their people.
We Are Stuck
If you’re stuck it’s ok. Your leadership and communication teams are probably too close to the company and its own internal language. As a result they cannot effectively step back far enough to speak in lay terms. If this is the case, seek the help of an outside communications consultant. Outside communication professionals bring a fresh perspective. In addition, because they are not influenced by your company’s internal language they probably represent the most efficient and effective way forward.
We Have a Great Story… Now What
You have distilled your great success story. Now ensure that it is consistently deployed throughout your company’s media to inspire your audiences and stakeholders to be a part of your journey.
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