by Adam O’Neill MBA, SPHR – Sr. Human Resources Consultant
An abridged version of the parable of bricklayers goes something like this: Three masons busily setting bricks to rebuild London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral were asked what they were doing. The first said, “I’m laying bricks.” The second said, “I’m building this wall so I can feed my family.” The third said proudly, “I’m building a cathedral for The Almighty!” Although all three bricklayers are performing the same work, their responses reveal very different work motivations – one has a job, the second has a career, and the third has a calling. This story is used in leadership development curricula to illustrate the importance of helping workers embrace the bigger picture of their work – their purpose.
Colleagues who understand that their work is something much greater than their daily tasks are profoundly more committed, productive, and dependable. So, what do successful businesses who realize the value of “cathedral builders” have in common? Thoughtful and concise Mission and Vision Statements.
The Mission Statement tells the company’s purpose: what it’s in business to do, for whom, and why. It often incorporates core values of the company. A good example is Amazon, whose mission statement is, “We strive to offer our customers the lowest possible prices, the best available selection, and the utmost convenience.” Another example is Harley Davidson: “More than building machines, we stand for the timeless pursuit of adventure. Freedom for the soul.”
The Vision Statement tells the desired outcome once that mission is accomplished. A great vision statement for the Alzheimer’s Association is, “A world without Alzheimer’s disease.” Southwest Airlines’ vision statement is, “To be the world’s most loved, most efficient, and most profitable airline.”
Sometimes, elements of both statements are combined to provide a statement of the company’s purposes, goals, and values, but the objective is the same – to define the company’s overall purpose so that no employee is left to wonder why they do what they do. And, in addition to inspiring employees to work with purpose, companies may use mission and vision statements internally to help guide strategic leadership decision making, establish performance standards, and provide a framework for company ethics guidelines. Externally, they might be used as a public relations communications tool to customers, vendors, and other stakeholders or for the recruiting of employees who share the company’s values.
Mission and vision statements usually change over time as external influences impact the business landscape, and leaders would do well to seek input from employees at all levels to create the most effective statements. Promoting these statements in a transparent and deliberate way by posting them in company spaces and on the website, incorporating them into the daily conversation at work, and expecting job candidates to be familiar with them in interviews are all great ways of preserving a purpose-filled workforce, void of brick layers and full of cathedral builders!
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