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Why Co-Creating an Organization Mission Is a Fool's Errand

Tuesday, March 18, 2014
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Those of you trying to pull people together to co-create an inspiring mission for your organization are going about the task backwards. This is not a training and development exercise. It’s a journey of discovery. Mission is not a choice. It’s dictated by others’ needs.

Sometimes others can give you a mission. Sometimes you have to figure it out yourself. As described in First-Time Leader (request an executive summary), the questions to ask are:

  • Who needs us?
  • What do they need and why?
  • What must we deliver to meet their needs?

Your organization’s mission flows from those.
Case in point

Consider Richard and Michelle Laver’s story about the development of Kate Farms Komplete Shakes. Their daughter Kate was born with Cerebral Palsy, which made eating normal food out of the question. As Richard explained to me, “At the age of four, Kate was failing to ‘thrive’ and was faced with numerous difficulties. The meal replacement shake her doctors prescribed was overloaded with sugar and dairy for calorie enhancement. We were in the hospital with Kate in dire circumstances; she could not keep any weight on her and her quality of life was poor. Getting Kate out of that was our driving force.”

Enough was enough. “Michelle and I decided it was time to take matters into our own hands to try and alleviate Kate’s symptoms and together we tried to find the most holistic ingredients we could so that our daughter would start feeling better,” says Richard.

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So with the help of an industry expert, they blended 21 super foods, such as acai, mangosteen, raspberries, black currants, green tea extract, with antioxidants, high-protein, and vitamin-rich ingredients. As a result, they put together the world’s first dairy-free, gluten-free, and soy-free ready-to-drink meal replacement shake.

It worked. Richard went on to relate that Kate has never been to the hospital again. He explains, “Within weeks of drinking Komplete, Kate’s condition improved greatly and she no longer needed breathing treatment for sleep apnea, her digestion problems were a thing of the past and her mouth was once again healthy.”

Many people build businesses by developing systematic ways to solve a problem shared by others. That’s exactly what Richard and Michelle did by assembling resources and then building distribution step-by-step to build a business. But at every step of the way, they’ve kept a picture of Kate front and center—in the company’s name, on their website, in their minds and hearts.

Implications for training and development

Let Kate find your people. Your Kate may personify a disease, an injustice, an inconvenience, or any other problem in search of a solution. Whatever it is, make sure it matters to you and to the people you’re going to bring to bear to develop and eventually market that solution.

You don’t get to create your mission. It already exists. Just help others be open to the call when it finds you.

About the Author

George Bradt has a unique perspective on transformational leadership based on his experience as a business leader, consultant, and journalist. He progressed through sales, marketing, and general management roles around the world at companies including Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and J.D. Power’s Power Information Network spin-off as chief executive. Now he is a principal of CEO Connection and managing director of the executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis.

George is a graduate of Harvard and Wharton (MBA), co-author of four books on onboarding, including The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan, and co-author of a weekly column on Forbes.com, The New Leader’s Playbook.

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