Mission ProfitYou’re on a mission to achieve great things in your business, even to change the world. But the truth is that you spend more time worrying about how the economy is doing, and whether you’ll be able to make enough money to survive.

There’s hope for you!

The first question to ask yourself is: How essential is your mission to your business success? If you have a business model that just glues your altruistic motives on the side, then it’s easier to sacrifice them when money gets tight.

Toms Shoes has a business model where they send one pair of shoes to a needy child for each pair sold. As margins get tight, it might be possible to stop the donations or delay them.

This company, though, is so dedicated to the mission that it publicly declares to customers that this is one of the reasons you should buy its product. Sure, it gets some points with customers, but it also makes the altruism much harder to change. Toms might lose its entire competitive edge, so it has to look for creative alternatives when times get tough. But it doesn’t sacrifice its mission.

Another great question is: How seriously are you measuring progress on your mission?

We all measure the financials down to the penny. You monitor customer acquisition and customer loyalty. Are you as serious about how we’re going to change the world? If you aren’t measuring it, there’s a good chance it will get “optimized away” when the tradeoffs get hard.

I was working with the owner of a small consultancy, just three employees. His ambition is to change the way the entire market thinks about how his area of focus, not just the clients he works with.

The good news is that he has some broader outreach programs which are quite impressive. But when I look at what he’s measuring, it’s mostly internal: revenue, profit, number of customers, expenses, and so on. It’s much harder to see if he’s moving the needle on changing the way the broader world thinks.

The third question is: How deeply embedded is your mission into your team? The ideal is that they’re so passionate and engaged that they’ll continue it even if you disappear. They’ll be looking for opportunities to deepen the impact and show extra initiative.

More often, the business owner is fully invested and tries to keep the dream visible to senior leaders. But it just sort of disappears after that.

Putting the same words on your PowerPoint slides once a quarter just doesn’t cut it.

Your challenge is to create daily discussions around your mission throughout the entire organization. Powerfully articulating it helps. Putting measures in place helps. Training your managers helps. But in the end, it just comes down to constant discussions interleaved with all the other day-to-day activity.

My fourth question is: Do you anticipate the challenges you’ll have making tradeoffs between your mission and the money?

Suppose you have a yearly cycle where things are great up through December, then customer revenue dries up after the new year and times get tough. This has happened for several years, so the chances this will happen again next January are high. What happens if you wait until January to work on it? Well, all you can do is react at that point. So you put people on reduced hours and engage in a lot of belt-tightening exercises. What happened to your mission? It’s on hold until your customers return.

You’ll probably be very busy during the holiday season, so won’t have a lot of time for reflection. So what are you doing now, while things are slower? Now is the time to be working with your team to figure out how you’ll continue progress on your mission, and won’t sacrifice your values, when times get tough in January.

That’s just a great business practice anyway. The more time you have to think and plan, the more options you can explore.


This article was first published in BizWest.

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