Creating, articulating, and sticking to your vision is the single most important job you have as a leader. We leaned heavily on the writings of Jim Collins when we went about the foundational work of creating our purpose, values, and mission, which is the starting point for everything we do as a company.
I won’t go into the specifics of Collins’ Beyond Entrepreneurship here, but I want to share how we live the Collins’s philosophy by hiring, training, and even firing to our vision. I’m a firm believer that leaders have to invest in this kind of work in order to create a great, enduring company.
Hire to the Vision
You can’t build and maintain a great culture without the right people. Just as important as evaluating technical skills and work ethic, it’s essential to identify if a candidate "fits" with your culture. Every new hire will either strengthen or weaken your culture, and when you’re building a vision-based company, there’s no middle ground.
Hiring for fit means having a clear understanding of what your values mean to your organization. Once you have a clear line on that, you simply create selection criteria and processes that vet the job candidate’s cultural fit. We assess fit by:
- Including filtering questions and tasks in the application process.
- Screening for values alignment by phone before the interview.
- Asking questions related to behavior and attitude during interviews.
- Creating interactions with potential peers before making an offer.
In addition to seeking out cultural fit, you have to find people who get fired up about your organization’s vision. You don’t want to bring in someone who isn’t excited about "your company’s why."
For us, our "why" is to help small businesses succeed. It’s probably no surprise that more than 60% of our team members owned small businesses at some point in their careers, because we want to work only with people that are passionate about helping our small business customers. When passionate people come together around a shared purpose, you’ll find business success.
Train to the Vision
Although hiring the right people is probably the biggest driver of success when building a vision-based company, there’s more to do after the hiring is done. Most organizations miss the chance to really ingrain their culture in the minds of their new hires by limiting "orientation" to filling out paperwork and explaining company policies.
Effective leaders are going to take the time to put a strong on-boarding process in place. A few well-told stories can go a long way toward helping new hires learn and support your company’s vision. Here are a few tips for on-boarding:
- Offer background. Give new hires a sense of how the purpose came to be. Lay out the key milestones of your company’s story and pass down the internal history that reinforces your values.
- Do more than emphasize the purpose, values, and mission—define what they are and clearly share how they are the foundation of your company. And then go deeper by describing what they mean and how they impact day-to-day life in your organization.
- Introduce "How we do things around here." You don’t want new hires to drown in week one. Help them understand workflows and highlight how you get customers and keep them happy.
- Connect them to teammates from various functions of your business. You want new hires to have multiple resources available to them as they learn the ropes.
Complacency is the enemy of vision, so on-boarding must be followed by reinforcement. As a baseline requirement, the purpose, values, and mission should be incorporated into one-on-ones with managers and into all meetings. I believe they need to be visible, which is why our employees have them at their desks and why we painted them on our walls. Your vision should be visible everywhere for easy reference and constant reinforcement.
And, don’t neglect to tie results—and rewards—directly to your vision by incorporating it into your formal review process. And, speaking of rewards, you must align all individual, team, and companywide rewards to your purpose, values, and mission. You want to consistently connect the dots between culture and results.
Fire to the Vision
Even the best hiring managers don’t get it right every time. Sometimes you end up with an employee who isn’t aligned with the vision. I’m not necessarily talking about poor performers, although a cultural misfit will likely also have a difficult time performing. I’m talking about people who are no longer connected to the purpose or whose behaviors have strayed from the core values.
The fastest way to destroy the health of your thriving culture is to ignore attitudes that aren’t aligned with your purpose and values. Employees that no longer support your culture cannot remain with the company.
It may seem excessive to let someone go because of a change in their attitudes and behaviors, especially if they are still able to produce exceptional results. After all, wouldn’t an employee who fit before still be a fit now? Not necessarily.
As an employer, you aren’t powerless against this change. Just as you have to feed a flame to keep it burning brightly, you have to regularly stoke your employees’ passion, their connection to the organization’s purpose, or it can fade away over time. And when that passion fades, you have big trouble. Employees who feel disconnected from the purpose can’t sustain a high level of engagement. They show up just to punch the clock. They become cultural cancers and—left unchecked—they will kill your culture and poison your lifeblood.
Preserving Your Greatness
Jim Collins reminds us that great, enduring companies have cult-like cultures. Building such a culture is an all-or-nothing proposition. It requires you to invest deeply in people, probably more deeply than your competition is willing to go.
You can’t reap the rewards of a vision-based culture when you allow behaviors and attitudes to fight against your purpose, values, and mission. So that means you have to do the hard leadership work up front and continue to carry it forward. That work means hiring, training, and even firing to preserve the vision that makes your company great.
—Clate Mask is the CEO of Infusionsoft, a marketing automation tool designed for small businesses. Find him on Twitter at @ClateMask.
[Image: Flickr user Martin Fisch]