Building a Business With Purpose, Mission, and Values

Published by Christy Reed on

Building a Business With Purpose, Mission, and Values

Daniel Hammer

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Have you ever been really prepared for an important meeting, only to have it unfold in a way that you didn’t expect? When you’re in a situation like that, it’s easy to improvise if you’re only representing your own interests. But what if you’re representing the interests of other people who aren’t present? Things become a bit more difficult then, don’t they? After all, how do you know that the impromptu choices you make are in the best interest of the people you’re representing? What if you cause them harm because the decisions don’t work out in their favor for some reason?

If you’re a business owner like me, then it’s important to understand that your team members often feel this way when they encounter unexpected situations on the job. That’s why so many business leaders are constantly caught in the middle of everything—because we’re the only ones who know our companies well enough to make any major decisions. 

At least, that’s how it’s been at my business, Sutter Home & Hearth. I was at the center of the web because my team didn’t always know what to do in any given situation. They weren’t sure if the call they thought they should make would move us forward or backward. They definitely cared deeply, but they couldn’t see everything I could. Without that vision, their care for the company turned into fear, simply because they didn’t want to make the wrong call. In those situations, what I wanted most in the world from my team—for them to care about the company as much as I do—suddenly became a liability.

Without that vision, their care for the company turned into fear, simply because they didn’t want to make the wrong call.

All of these problems brought the following questions to the forefront of my mind: How can I get multiple people (all with different motivations, desires, fears, and personalities) to push together in the same direction? How can I help them find meaning in what they do so they get in line and perform for the business—not because they’re forced to, but because they want to? How can I get their care for the company to mirror my own so I’m no longer stuck in a tangled web of endless work?

After considering these questions for years, I’ve come to the realization that I can’t expect my team to care about the business if they don’t know why the business is valuable or what it values. I also can’t expect my team to care for the business if they don’t feel that the company’s values and interests can align with their own. It’s easy to believe these things are self-evident in any business, but they’re not. In fact, that false belief is one of the key points of contention between company leaders and team members. This is clearly on display whenever our team members do things that run counter to the needs of the business and we assume that they’re incompetent, careless, or worse. In reality, it’s much more likely that they simply can’t see the path because we haven’t given them any light—and then we get mad at them for running into trees. Don’t get me wrong: We’ll probably hire some people who don’t care as much as they should or who aren’t competent enough to do their jobs. But before we can really make that determination, we have to make sure that they know what’s expected of them.

I can’t expect my team to care about the business if they don’t know why the business is valuable or what it values.

This article is brought to you by Associated Energy Systems.

At this point, let’s go back to the opening example and suppose that you know the people you’re representing at the hypothetical meeting really, really well. That would make this situation a lot easier to navigate, right? Because it’s easier to act on behalf of others when you’re confident that your actions reflect their values, goals, and aspirations. 

This is precisely why I worked with my team to develop a clear company purpose, a compelling mission statement, and a strong set of core values, which we collectively call a “core values package.” More specifically, we landed on the following purpose and mission statements for the company.

  • Purpose: The purpose of Sutter Home & Hearth is to prove that business can be a force for good.
  • Mission: Sutter Home & Hearth will serve every major Puget Sound market by 2035.

During our deliberations, we also uncovered and articulated the company’s five core values.

  1. Get the details right: In its simplest form, this means we think before we act. We want to understand our problems and our opportunities before we decide what to do with them. We are thorough and thoughtful and desire the development of good judgment above all else. The development and use of good judgment is what leads us to our next value.
  2. Do the right thing: We act with integrity, operating with the highest good in mind.  If we aim to serve the highest good, we’d better work hard to really understand the situation, which means we need to get the details right.
  3. Provide unrivaled personal service: We value relationships, so we aim to serve everyone we work with. This isn’t just customers. We work to also serve our colleagues, our bosses, our subordinates, our vendors, and our community. We want to always move things in a positive direction, and we don’t want to wait for someone else to make that happen. 
  4. Earn trust through expertise and craftsmanship: We want to do the best job possible. We can be as thorough as possible, as ethical as possible, and have the best service possible—but if the end product isn’t strong, it’s all for nothing.
  5. Create a welcoming community built on mutual contribution and respect: We are a community. Every time we live these values, our community grows stronger. We use the word “community” because it means each person has chosen to be a member, that each person chooses to contribute to the well-being of the community, and that each person chooses to show respect to the community and to each other. We are here by choice. As such, we’ve started asking established and potential team members questions like these: “Will you contribute to this community? Will you do your part? Will you help the rest of us get where we’re going? Will you respect others, what they believe, and who they are if they give you respect in return? Do you want to be here?” If team members answer “yes” to these types of questions, then they’re in and they’re safe—because the rest of the team has their back.

If team members answer “yes” to these types of questions, then they’re in and they’re safe—because the rest of the team has their back.

Simply put, the purpose, mission, and values listed above have benefited Sutter Home & Hearth by establishing the company as an independent entity, creating the framework for making decisions, ensuring the business employs the right people, and giving the team worthy goals to pursue.

For starters, documenting the company’s purpose, mission, and values has helped my team get to know the business better. I want them to view Sutter as a distinct entity—almost like a shared friend we both serve—so that I’m not at the center of every unexpected issue we encounter. This is where the shared values, mission, and purpose all come into play. These are how my team gets to know the company, what it expects, and what it believes. In the end, running your own business as an extension of yourself won’t gain you the loyalty or commitment you want, but sharing and committing to the company’s core values package will get you both—all while establishing the business as a distinct entity.

A clear and compelling core values package has also given my team a decision-making framework that reflects the standards of the business—and, by extension, the standards of those who choose to work for the business. When team members are faced with challenges or find themselves at a crossroads, they can now fall back on the core values, the purpose, and the mission to help them make solid decisions, even in difficult situations. Here, it’s critical to note that company leaders like you must consistently honor these core values as well. After all, if you as the leader don’t live out the core values at your own expense as necessary—if you don’t put the needs of the business before your own—then your team won’t take them seriously or see the business as separate from you. This means that you and your employees alike must be loyal to the core values package and use it to make decisions that will benefit the company as a whole.

In addition to crystalizing the company’s identity and providing a framework for decision-making, the core values package will also ensure that the right people are working for Sutter, at least over time. After all, our core values package has taken the essence of the business and transformed it from an unspoken secret into a transparent statement about what the business values (core values), why the business is valuable (its purpose), and what it plans to do with that value (its mission). By clarifying all of those ideas, our company will be able to find new hires who closely align with the business, and any current employees who don’t align with it will eventually move on and find something else that fits them better. In a similar way, creating a core values package for your company will help you find the right people and weed out the wrong ones over time. The key phrase here is “over time.” Building the right team and putting everyone in their ideal roles won’t happen overnight—but honestly, that’s just another reason to formulate your purpose, mission, and core values as soon as you can.

Creating a core values package for your company will help you find the right people and weed out the wrong ones over time.

Finally, Sutter’s core values package gives aspirational guidance and daily direction to the team. Without an aspirational goal, our team struggled to define and pursue the next steps forward, simply because we didn’t have a strong sense of where we wanted to go. As a business leader, it’s crucial to recognize that team discipline, work ethic, and employee compensation are not the sole factors that determine whether a company will reach its potential. Indeed, the presence of a shared vision and code of conduct provides a litmus test for identifying whether perceived team shortcomings stem from personnel issues or leadership gaps. By establishing a core values package for your business, you can inspire your team with aspirational goals, enabling them to address specific challenges while unlocking the company’s full potential.

At this point, I think it is important to share that I’ve been a bit conflicted about things like core values, purposes, and missions for most of my career. This conflict most certainly comes from my hybrid nature, as I’m one part hearth industry pirate ship captain, one part Foster School of Business graduate. The two don’t always mix well. While my education has been extremely valuable to me, I’ve also found it could take itself too seriously and minimize the humanity of an organization in favor of process, procedure, and structure. Being a lifetime hearth industry professional who takes pride in the messy humanity of our industry and the chaos we navigate daily—the difficulty, risks, and demands of the work—made me push back on some higher-order business organization as too out of touch with the uncertain realities of a business like ours. Furthermore, it seemed like a lot of big businesses that had stated values seemed to do everything in their power to violate those values, which made the idea of a core values package seem hollow and cheap. 

However, I now realize that it’s precisely our commitment to our people, our relationships, and our industry that makes something like this so effective. In our industry, we already have amazing core values and purposes that would inspire and motivate untold amounts of people to work for us or do business with us. They just exist in our hearts, and as long as they’re only written there, they won’t do any good for anyone—especially you. So don’t be afraid to articulate and share the essence of what makes your business and our industry great. The world will hear you, and those who matter and can help your business will respond.

Daniel Hammer

Daniel Hammer

Daniel Hammer is the Owner of Sutter Home & Hearth in Seattle, Washington. He has been a dedicated member of the hearth industry for nearly 25 years.

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