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Create a Successful Mission Statement

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Mike Quinn had a problem. The chief executive officer of 911 Collision Centers realized his employees were struggling to grasp the shop’s policies and procedures. It didn’t help that he and Chief Operating Officer Patrick O’Neill were sometimes sending mixed messages. “People would say, ‘Mike said this’ and ‘Pat said this,’” Quinn recalls. Running a collision repair center with nine locations across Tucson, Phoenix and Las Vegas; more than 200 employees; and some 950 repaired cars each month, Quinn knew he had to address the issue definitively. So in 2004, six years after the company first opened its doors, Quinn set out to create a mission, vision and values statement for the company. The resulting document clarified the shop’s policies and procedures, and it also got everyone—even management—on the same page. Five years later, the company is now in the process of revising that original mission statement, and Quinn is confident the new changes will strengthen shop operations yet again.

“The most successful mission or vision statements are created with a team of people, not just the owner or manager sitting in his office pounding out a Word document.”
—Hank Nunn, president, H.W. Nunn & Associates

BUILDING YOUR MISSION AND VISION

Shops often fail to realize the importance of taking time to create a mission statement, says Hank Nunn, president of H.W. Nunn & Associates in Portland, Ore. “The majority of shops are just busy getting through the day-to-day hassles and don’t sit down to build a mission and vision statement,” he says. “It’s one of those things people think about but don’t do.” And yet, that shift from should to did is critical.

“The owner of a company needs to understand that their role is to lead, and part of accepting that role is to provide a very clear, well-defined description of what the company is all about and where it’s going,” Nunn says. “Every employee on the face of the earth wants to know ‘how we’re doing’ and ‘where we’re going’.”

Developing a successful mission and vision statement may seem daunting, but Nunn breaks it down into three simple steps:

Step 1: Discover. Find out how others view your company. Get a clear view of who you are—and not from your perspective as the owner or manager. Instead, see your company through the eyes of your customers. This step usually takes about 30 days, Nunn says. “Ask one or two customers every day why they chose your shop versus another.” This will help you better determine what sets you apart from the competition. The more feedback you can get, the better.

Step 2: Meet. “Once you have enough data, then get the views of [your] employees, accountants, insurance people and suppliers,” Nunn says. “Create a team to boil all that information down to its key components.” Involving a lot of folks may seem like a hassle, but it’ll be worth it in the long run. “The most successful vision or mission statements are created with a team of people, not just the owner or manager sitting in his office pounding out a Word document,” Nunn says.

Step 3: Execute. Once you’ve determined where your shop stands, set your goals. Say you’ve discovered much of your work is driven by insurance referrals, but you’d like to increase your customer referrals. Your vision statement, Nunn says, states your goal—in this case, increasing customer referrals.

For instance, you create a vision statement like: “At ABC Autobody, we believe long-term success lies in converting customers to ‘raving fans’ who help promote our business.” Your mission statement, then, details how you’re going to accomplish that goal. For instance, Nunn offers: “Our motto is ‘On Time, Every Time.’ We don’t just satisfy customers, we exceed their expectations!”

Once you’ve established your mission and vision statement, make them easily accessible to all employees. “Share that mission statement with everyone in the company, even to the point of printing it on company letterhead and hanging it around the office so everyone is on the same page,” Nunn says.

PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE

At 911 Collision Centers, new hires spend three hours during orientation learning about the company’s mission, vision and values statement. “It’s extensive,” Quinn says, adding with a laugh: “It’s boot camp!” Following orientation, employees are paired with a senior staff member who acts as mentor. Signs with the company’s mission statement are displayed throughout each of the nine locations, and every employee is given a pocket-sized mission statement card.

Despite the efforts to get all new employees to understand and appreciate the mission, vision and values, Quinn acknowledges that the work of some employees hasn’t always met the company’s expectations. When this happens, he takes the emotion out of the situation by simply referring to the pocket-sized mission statement card. “I go to my pocket card and ask, ‘Is this a quality repair?’ he says. “It’s not ‘Mike is saying’ or ‘Pat is saying.’ It’s what we as a collective group are saying.” In this way, the mission and vision statements help shape the culture of the entire company—not just the quality of work completed at the shop.

Knowing how a staff can quietly come to resent a “bad apple” who doesn’t support the mission that everyone else is working toward, Quinn doesn’t tolerate employees who don’t buy in to the stated goals. Letting it slide, for instance, when an employee repeatedly comes in late, isn’t worth the risk to the integrity of the company and the staff. That’s the kind of thing that leads good employees to quit, Quinn says: They may not be able to articulate why they’re leaving, but it’s a result of becoming increasingly frustrated that management condoned the tardiness even while everyone else was working hard to live up to the company’s stated expectations.

“It’s not what Charlie is doing, it’s the 10 people watching what Charlie is doing. That is the reason why we need a mission, vision and values statement,” Quinn says. That helps him protect the greater team from the bad behavior of any single employee.

WORK IN PROGRESS

Now, Quinn is in the middle of making some important changes to the company’s current mission, vision and values statements. “It’s a living thing,” he says of adjusting the document to reflect shifting priorities. “Things change, and we’ve grown,” he says. “You start seeing trends, and you say, ‘That is a fundamental belief now.’” One of those new beliefs is that attitude trumps skills. After years of hiring techs based on his or her particular skill set, Quinn realized expertise doesn’t always translate into a great employee. Now, he’d rather hire someone based on attitude and willingness to learn rather than skill set. At the bottom of the company’s new mission statement, he’s added, “Remember: a positive attitude trumps skills!” It is now a core value of the company.

Quinn is also revising the document’s depth of clarification. For example, the company’s 2004 mission, vision and values statement said: “We are people with integrity.” But some employees mentioned the sentence didn’t seem concrete enough. Now the value statement reads, “We are people committed to honest dealings.” “Everything is so much more specific,” Quinn says. “There are no more blanket statements.”

ALL TOGETHER NOW

Creating a mission statement is an often-overlooked—but essential—part of a successful business. “The biggest impact of having a good mission statement is that everyone knows where we’re going; everyone is on board for a common goal,” Nunn says. “Every business decision the company makes is measured against its mission statement.” In essence, it becomes the rudder that directs your company.

Quinn agrees. “All oars are in the water. Everyone’s working together,” he says. “Will that lead to success? Of course.”

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