When Airbnb first released its new motto “Belong Anywhere,” the Internet was quick to mock. TechCrunch called the mission statement a “hippy-dippy concept,” and the media compared the new logo to genitalia.
However for Airbnb founders and employees alike, the new slogan represented the humanity of a service which encourages exploration and personal interactions between users regardless of their backgrounds.
Having a strong big mission is the first step in creating a company that potential employees and consumers can really empathize with and get behind. However, while Airbnb is one of the biggest startup success stories, and was voted the best place to work by Glassdoor in 2015, far too often modern companies paint their company’s big mission in a rose-tinted light, without actually bringing any of these values into their team, or processes.
To help companies bring their teams and businesses in line with their values, there is a growing trend of spiritual entrepreneurship and compassionate management in both the corporate and startup worlds. These movements encourage ethical and inclusive practices in the modern workplace, which in turn will then transfer into how the company conducts business with their clients.
So how can companies develop a business that puts its money where its mouth is, and follow up on its ambitious mission statement?
1) Practice compassionate management as a way to ‘live your values’
Eric Jacobson argues mission statements are more than just slogans, and that when done well they “become the deeply ingrained principle and fabric that guide employee behavior and company decisions and actions.” However, while companies like Airbnb seem to be making good on their bold mission statements, not all companies do.
For example, global food giant Kraft Heinz describe their own cultural values as “Ownership and Meritocracy, creating an environment of empowerment unique to our company and provide high-potential employees with unlimited growth opportunity.” However, the company was rated one of the top ten worst companies to work for by Glassdoor, with one former employee stating, “Corporate leaders don’t truly respect or care about their employees. They only care about making money off of them.”
If the values of your company are about growth and respect but the policies and culture promote solely the bottom line, this is a fatal disconnect which could kill your company culture, and lead to high employee turnover.
Some companies are leaning on compassionate management techniques to bring their inner workings in line with their big missions. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner is on a personal mission to “expand the world’s collective wisdom and compassion,” and has made the practice of compassionate management a core value at the company.
One of the cornerstones of the movement is that companies are responsible to take care of all of their stakeholders –investors, employees, customers– not just shareholders.
Motivational speaker, and esteemed writer Simon Sinek said, “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.” According to Harvard Business review, the way managers treat employees, and deal with conflict and disciplinary situations has a direct effect on staff turnover.
Treating people as humans with compassion and trust increases employee loyalty and productivity, and makes it more likely for them to stick with a company even through hard times.
2) Consider a spiritual adviser to keep you grounded.
It can be hard to keep perspective once you are running a business. Times are tough for startups, especially in the midst of a A-round crunch, and often what is right for a company is terms of growth and profit, may wander from the aims and values on which it was founded.
While Steve Jobs was known to be a difficult man to work for, he turned to a spiritual adviser for guidance in the early stages of Apple. While Zen priest Kobun Chino Otogawa may have failed to convert Jobs into a compassionate leader, he is rumored to have been a big influence in early Apple decision making.
Spirituality is not new in the startup world. Mark Zuckerberg has tried to integrate Buddhist morals at Facebook and Google’s leadership reportedly sought guidance from spiritual leaders and encourages employees to practise meditation.
Our company has been working with a monk for more than a year now, who teaches our leaders about compassion and kindness when dealing with employees, but also offers business mentorship too. Our company recently changed from only offering long-term contracts to a month-to-month system on the advice of our advisor, which has had a direct effect on our bottom line.
When we changed our agreement terms from 6-month term to at-will term, our growth increased by 40% when compared to last year. Plus the word of mouth referrals have increased by 21%. However most importantly, the change brought us back in line with our aims and values, of offering a flexible, transparent service for our users, SMB owners with limited resources.
Having a spiritual adviser allows you to see how your company’s day to day conduct lines up with your values from an outsider’s perspective. Aside from improving conditions for employees, it also allows companies to ensure their public offerings are in line with their big mission.
3) Hire based on values
Your company is only as strong as the people who work for it.
Zenefits CEO David Sacks recently made the news, after giving employees an option of severance pay if they were not 100% behind the company’s new value set, leading to a loss of 10% of his staff.
However, rather than laying down the law at a later stage, it is easier to build a value driven team from the bottom up by hiring efficiently. The best way to do this is by identifying a set of qualities or values that you wish to see in the people who work in the company, and then hiring based on these qualities, not just previous work experience and education.
Some of the world’s most successful companies have vigorous application processes to find talent who fit culturally as well as professionally. Google’s desired characteristics for their perfect employee focus on characteristics like ability to work in a team, problem solving and humility.
We decided we want to work with people who are empathetic, generous, trustworthy and have integrity. As a result, when it comes to living those values by building a customer support team which can really connect with users, the team isn’t built on vague platitudes of a mission statement. It’s built around identifiable personal traits.
If you want to run your company based on values first, you need to make sure that the people on board share those values, too. To truly become value driven requires changes at all steps of the ladder, and a shift on both outward and inward facing culture and mentalities. While the process takes time and energy, it will lead to a company that the best people want to work for, and the best customers want to work with.