In 1983, Steve Jobs approached John Sculley, then president of Pepsi, about taking on a leadership role within Apple.
Sculley was incredulous. “Why would I leave a multi-million-dollar company to come to work for a start up?”
Jobs responded to Sculley, a marketing expert famous for devising the Pepsi Challenge advertising campaign, with the perfect pitch: “Do you want to stay here and make sugar water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?”
Steve Jobs had a remarkable ability to communicate lofty ideals to his people and enroll them in the idea that what they were working on could impact the world. I call this a Mission from God. And Apple continues to reimagine what’s possible through technology and attract the best of the best.
The term “mission from God,” was first coined by Warren Bennis, arguably the most prolific author on the subject of leadership and teaming. He describes a mission from God in his book, Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration, by writing that “inspiration leaders can transform even mundane projects into missions from God.”
I am not pointing to a religious calling, though it may be part of your personal mission. A mission from God points to naming the thing that you and your team are working on in a way that inspires everyone to work hard and persevere when the going gets rough. A mission from God helps team members derive a sense of personal satisfaction that their hours and days add up to something that matters. The work that you are working on together matters. This is one of the ways you become better partners. You are all in together. You make a difference together.
Another way to think of the necessity for a mission from God is knowing that there are two ways to work – “heads up” and “heads down.” Heads-up work is where you reconnect to the bigger point of why you are doing what you do. Heads-down work is when you put your nose to the grindstone and get busy delivering on your collective accountabilities.
To name your mission from God, it’s important to dedicate time with your team to do heads up thinking together. Ask one another, “How does the work we are doing support the overall mission of our company?” “What’s our part?” It’s essential to make this connection.
For example, Google’s mission statement is “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” The Google Chrome team then has to declare what they are doing to help make this happen. One of the ways they ensure their search information is useful and accessible is through getting feedback from third-party Search Quality Raters. Quality Raters are spread out all over the world and are highly trained using extensive guidelines. Their feedback helps Google understand which changes make their searches most useful.
Harley Davidson’s mission statement says, “We fulfill dreams through the experience of motorcycling.” That means each and every division of Harley Davidson must name how they are part of fulfilling dreams for their customers.
All too often, though, once this mission is articulated by senior leaders in the company, the rest of the organization must realize that they have to find their place in the delivery of this mission. Every team in an organization must do the challenging work of declaring their part is in the fulfillment of the company’s larger mission. Every team and department and division has an important role to play in making a mission a reality.
Of course, this is no small challenge. But taking time at the beginning of a collaborative effort to articulate and align on a purpose—a mission from God—can save a huge amount of time, money, and effort. You go into it already united around a larger ideal that drives the central intention of the work.
Here’s How to Create your Team’s Mission from God:
1. Define what you do. “We ________.” Be clear about what your team actually does. “We reimagine meaningful connections and insights across the company to grow and develop the whole person.”
2. Define the unique way your team does what it does. This often includes the team’s values, like creativity or a dedication to service excellence.
3. Add the human connection. What does your team do for people? For example: “We make it easier for every working person in the world to create and share documents.” “By serving people well, we make sure every customer who leaves our store is smiling.”
Give people time on their own to write their response to the question above. After 10 minutes or so, gather your team members in a circle, and ask each person to read to the group their proposed “Mission from God” and describe why they find it inspirational. Have a team member write these on a flip chart or chart key words from each person.
4. As a group, craft your team’s one or two-sentence “Mission from God.”
This exercise is a wise investment of time for you and your team. Regardless of what you call it – a Mission from God, a compelling purpose, a team mission – your team will be more able to work on what matters. You will see gains in clarity and productivity, not to mention team member engagement.