Pop quiz: Without checking your website or business plan, what’s your solar company’s mission statement? You have 10 seconds…..and…failure. Useless. Meaningless. But it shouldn't be, and I'll tell you why in a bit.
So, why have a mission statement if you and other employees can’t clearly say what the mission is? Even if you looked it up, it would most likely be 50 words of corporate gobbley-gook that require a lawyer to decipher and a can of Red Bull to believe it…for as long as that high lasted. And then… back to work.
Putting you on the spot, you might have been forced to say that your corporate mission and/or your personal mission is to make money/profit for yourself and your solar company. Right?
But making a profit is not a mission. Making a profit and earning a living is a result of your mission. You can make money in 10,000 ways, so why solar? To have that focus and that edge, you’ve got to have your personal reason for making money via whatever you do for your solar company and work.
Now, all of this beating up on mission statements doesn’t mean they’re a waste of time. Not at all. Having a mission is very useful for guiding what you do and how you do it.
For example, I can tell you my personal "Solar Fred/UnThink Solar" mission statement in 9 words. In fact, anyone who receives an email from me knows my mission statement because it’s on my email signature. It says in red, “Be bold for solar. Stand out and educate.” That’s both my personal mission and my company’s mission. That’s the heart of what “UnThink Solar” means, and it guides what I do, pretty much, every day of my life.
There's a great book by Simon Sinek and a corresponding Ted Talk (below) that expands on what I’m talking about here. You can see the video below, but what it comes down to is this: “People don’t buy what you do, but why you do it.” It's not just a theory. Sinek gives historical examples of why this statement is the answer for why some businesses succeed and others--with far more capital--fail.
For me, these blog posts, my 15,000+ Tweets of useful solar information, and my daily work all reflect my mission to “Be bold for solar. Stand out and educate.” And as a result of that mission, I can honestly say that I’ve been successful.
So, if you are the head of a company, and your only mission is to make money for yourself and your stock holders, is that rudder helping you to make the most money, or just enough to meet your quarterly goals and satisfy the Board? I would argue that a crystal clear mission statement helps you and your company to exceed goals.
Similarly, if you’re an employee or salesperson in the solar B-to-B widget world or the residential world, you may have also thought that your mission is to sell solar product, make money, pay the rent, and keep my head down. Done. That’s my mission. G’night, boss!
The people at Apple, one of the most valuable companies in the world today with zero debt? They all know the company’s mission—and their own mission. “Think Different. Challenge the status quo.” It says nothing about computers, but that mission is applied to all that they do, from iTunes to the iPad. "Think different" was Steve Jobs’ mission, and everyone in the company lives it, even after his death. Apple’s innovative products and their run-away profits are a result of that thinking, and that’s why Apple grew beyond being just a computer company. The result of their mission is gobs and gobs of money. It wasn’t the goal, and, by the way, the result wasn’t immediate either, but that’s another story I won’t address here.
Okay, so enough about the lack of a good mission statement. Briefly, here’s my UnThink Solar/Solar Fred way to fix it:
1) For companies, decision makers need to read this message and watch the video below. The reality is that nothing important ever happens in a company without a top person agreeing that it’s important. So, the first step for a company is to get this blog post in the hands of a CEO or someone on the Board, and to have them watch the video. It really is useful, and it gives great examples of why Apple and the Wright Brothers succeeded over well-funded competitors, and why Tivo failed and Dell ain’t in the cell phone or tablet business.
2) Delete your current mission statement. If you don’t know it, it wasn’t there anyway, so delete your mission statement from your website — if it’s even on there — and then think about why you’re in the solar business beyond making a buck. What inspired you to get started? What did you want to change? What did you think was wrong and that you could fix? The answers to these questions are going to be different for every company, every CEO, and every person. Focus it all down to 10 words or less, and then move on to the next step.
3) Live your mission statement, and if possible, share it. After you know why you’re personally doing what you’re doing, if you’re an employee, keep it to yourself. It’s your personal mission, not the company’s. Get it down to 10 words or less and use it every day to inspire you to work harder or to think of new ideas. If your bosses eventually notice your attitude change and ask what’s gotten into you, only then email them this blog post and discuss. If they never notice and you’re truly living it, perhaps it’s time to find another company that aligns more with your personal solar mission statement.
4) Research your mission via all of your employees. If you’re the CEO, hone your company’s mission statement down to 10 words or less, and also keep it to yourself — for now. At the same time, email every employee and ask them to take a few minutes — mandatory — to email you back what they believe to be the company’s mission in 10 words or less. Don’t penalize them for any answer. If most say it’s to make money or their answer is very different from yours, it’s your fault. Reprimand yourself for not being clear about the vision in your head. Now's your chance to correct that.
Next, review your employees’ answers — from the janitors to the engineers. Sometimes, employees know your mission better than you do. Disregard the “to make money/profit” statements (remember, money is a result, not a mission) and incorporate any ah-ha-truths into your new 10 word or less company mission statement. Reward any employee who contributed to your new clarity.
5) Send out the new mission statement. Finally, you should have a honed, easy-to-remember company mission statement in 10 words or less. Tell everyone that these 10 words are to be memorized and incorporated into everything they do and every decision that they make. I know this is forced solar Koolaid drinking, but once you're clear about your mission, if every employee doesn't understand it and how it applies to their job, then it defeats the purpose of having one mission for the company. It's up to company leaders to sell this mission statement, however. So, if your employees feel forced to buy it, then you may have to reconfigure further, or perhaps you haven't properly explained how money is a result, not the mission. Your new company mission statement should inspire a majority, not just a few loyal friends.
Once everyone understands why they’re in the office and have that 10 word common purpose, you’ll be surprised how fast your customers notice this new purpose/attitude. You don't have to tell it to customers, but you must show it to them by what you do. In time, customers will notice, and they will reward you for that genuine passion for contributing to building/installing/selling the best solar widget in the universe. The final result will be increased brand loyalty, referrals, and of course, profits.
Here’s the video below, and as always … Be bold for solar. Stand out and educate. Or, to put it even more succinctly… UnThink Solar.
Tor Valenza a.k.a. “Solar Fred” is a solar marketing and communications consultant and the author of Solar Fred's Guide to Solar Guerrilla Marketing. Sign up for the Solar Fred Marketing Newsletter, or contact him through UnThink Solar. You can also follow @SolarFred on Twitter.
The information and views expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of RenewableEnergyWorld.com or the companies that advertise on this Web site and other publications. This blog was posted directly by the author and was not reviewed for accuracy, spelling or grammar.