Mission Drift 101: Why Values-based Business (and Living) Matters
Why living and operating from a values-based perspective is beneficial for individuals and businesses.
Last summer, I left my job as a strategist at a global design firm after deciding to join the startup community. Without a job lined up immediately, I taught yoga classes while exploring positions at startups across the country. About a month into this adventure, as I reflected on the information I had gathered so far, I noticed a pattern that left me quite confused, and eventually became the inspiration for the start of my own business.
I would typically ask those I met why the company was founded (i.e., mission and values), followed by an inquiry of service and/or product offerings. What struck me was the frequency with which the services and/or products did not align with the “why.” At first I was puzzled and immediately turned off at the prospect of working at such a company. From the experience of holding a handful of jobs where I had felt personal mission drift, I could only imagine the choppy waters ahead for these nascent businesses. However, as an ever-curious detective and critical thinker, I began to ask questions.
As it turns out, just like personal mission drift, organizational mission drift happens for a variety of reasons that include, but are not limited to, the following:
-Lack of alignment in mission, values and vision with investors/board members
-Lack of alignment in mission, values and vision among founders
-Hiring decisions fail to incorporate big-picture, long-term thinking
-Entrepreneurial opportunism (e.g., we can bridge that gap, this service will be lucrative, etc.)
-“Giving in” to financial restrictions (e.g., we “have” to pick option C, even if it doesn’t fully align with our mission because we can’t afford option A)
-Disintegration of organizational values at an operational level
-Launch before mission, values and vision are solidified
As disappointed as I was to see this trend towards implosion happening to startups that seemed incredibly well-intentioned, the entrepreneur in me saw this as an opportunity to align my experience as a strategist and consultant with my personal mission of helping others to discover, live and operate by their truth, or mission. With that, EHM | Brand+ was born.
Outside of the social impact and faith-based business spheres where it comes up every so often, mission drift proves to be an area of conversation or research that is rarely visited. At first glance, this seems peculiar considering the degree to which I personally observed mission drift within a small and relatively random population (think: startups ranging from flower delivery services to co-working spaces to educational technology products) and, at times, saw within previous places of employment. However, after a closer look, it doesn’t seem odd at all that mission drift isn’t at the forefront of research or discussion because its effects can often take time to play out (i.e., it doesn’t cause instant organizational death), and in the case of a highly self-aware organization, may self-correct. Furthermore, in cases where a company makes a growth decision that is motivated purely by its bottom line, it may actually see short-term financial success and growth.
So why should we care about mission drift at all? Well, for at least a couple of reasons:
-Mission drift means that employees are working towards an end that is not in keeping with the foundations of the organization, which can have critical implications for employee engagement, and therefore, human capital
-Operating towards a goal that is not fueled by the organizational mission is not sustainable in the long term – financially, operationally, culturally, etc.
The antidote to mission drift, whether personal or organizational, is living and operating in alignment with a set of core values. These core values are what should direct and guide decision-making. When we – or our organization – operate in alignment with those values and mission, a state of harmony exists in which we (or our organization) are able to perform more smoothly, efficiently and productively over a lasting period of time; success is sustainable in this state. (For more information about this concept of harmonious existence based on values-based living and operating, check out the book Co-active Coaching: Changing Business, Transforming Lives by Henry Kimsey-House, Karen Kimsey-House and Phillip Sandahl.)
For an organization, getting to this state is easier if founders make a conscious effort at the outset of startup to build their company from a values-based perspective. However, organizations of any size can redirect to this values-based state if they lose course while navigating uncharted waters during rapid growth. It takes steadfast commitment fueled by genuine belief in organizational mission, confidence and risk to truly grow and operate according to organizational values, as well as a great deal of creativity (think about dealing with competition in the market, satisfying clients or consumers, etc.). There are a variety of factors that contribute to organizational success, and in many cases, timing is everything. Growing authentically based on values and mission can, ceteris paribus (“all other things being equal”), mean the difference between an organization that flourishes and one that flops.
If mission drift starts creeping up at your organization, get curious – ask questions: is this decision in keeping with our values? What are our core values? Are we doing all we can to embody these values in our culture? Does this choice in front of us truly reflect our mission? What is holding us back from operating in honor of our mission? What might it look like to optimize efficiency in light of our organizational values? Allow these answers to inform the path of a values-based organizational journey and let the mission light the way.
If you are interested in helping your startup or established organization avoid mission drift or make a comeback from mission drift, let’s connect. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
First published on LinkedIn on September 19, 2017