Principles in writing will influence employees

score Question:
I'm doing a business plan and have been instructed to include a mission statement. Fluffy mission statements befuddle me. I'm referring to mission statements that are advertising gimmicks - they sound good and mean nothing, either to customers or employees.

Statements of belief supposedly are written and posted for clients, but it's really your staff you want to influence. Such messages set forth the principles that govern how your company operates. They define how and how not to treat clients, advisers, suppliers and fellow employees.

The rationale for developing a written statement of belief is simple. You, the company owner, have principles. Statements of belief define who you are and how you expect to do business. Experts will tell you that employee / employer mismatches result more often from a clash of cultures that from issues of ability.

Broadcasting your principles as a statement of belief lets you use them to analyze and train employees for acceptable behavior: But remember, even principles like respect and honesty are subject to a range of interpretations. It's always wise to spell things out.

A dear friend and a mentor of mine, Paul Lauletta, group vice-president at Techalloy Inc., said: "The faintest pencil mark is greater than the best memory. So always write it down."

Harley-Davidson Motor Co. is a good example of a company that has clearly laid out its beliefs. The motorcycle manufacturer espouses five principles:

  • Tell the truth
  • Be fair
  • Keep your promises
  • Respect the individual
  • Encourage intellectual curiousity

These values govern Harley-Davidson in its relations with employees, investors, buyers, and dealers. Moreover they're universal.

Harley-Davidson goes a bit further in defining each value by listing behaviors that would be congruent with them. For example, encourage intellectual curiousity is defined as creating an atmosphere that values obtaining and applying new knowledge.

They they list six behaviors that should be preactices at every level in the company to further this principle. Listing values, and defining and identifying some of the key behaviors that exhibit these values gives client and staff something tangible to work with:

  • Allocate resources to learning
  • Encourage risk taking
  • Challenge the status quo
  • Benchmark performance against the best in class
  • Be open to influence
  • Accept responsibility for lifelong learning

I urge you to develop a statement of key values for your company. To make it stick, the process needs to be democratic, where everyone has input. This is much slower that dictatoship, where you issue commands from your office, but it's the only way to go.

Your statement of company values, definitions and appropriate behaviors will be a living document that improves over time. It will be a major selling tool, plus bring employees' behavior in line with the company philosophy.

Bill Bryan is a counselor with the Service Corps of Retired Executives. SCORE offers counseling, workshops and seminars on small business operations. You can reach Bryan through SCORE, 515 N Court St. 815-962-0122, for information and appointments.

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