Culture, Growth, Startup

The Company Promise Statement™


Many of us believe in the power of a company’s declaration of its vision, mission and values and, more critically, living by them. It has certainly come up prominently in my recent conversations with founders and CEOs as an essential requirement to cultivating the right culture in your business and scaling it. At least one founder said that culture is reinforced when everyone in the company is held accountable to the values. Furthermore, in a quick, informal LinkedIn poll, 63% of respondents rated a compelling and inspiring company vision statement as being very important to them personally, 27% rated it as somewhat important, and only 10% rated it as either somewhat or very unimportant. In other words, 90% rated it as very or somewhat important.

The challenge is that there is a lot of noise out there about what makes for a compelling and inspiring statement. Anyone who has considered the frameworks of Jim Collins and Simon Sinek, to name a couple of key thought leaders in this area, knows that they don’t exactly mesh. Furthermore, there are often disconnects between a company’s vision statement and its brand promise, with the former being viewed as a more internally-facing document for employees, and the latter being more externally-facing for customers and the market. And there are often also disconnects in how the company’s vision statement translates into tangible, quantitative goals for the business.

Why Should I Care?

Why is a Company Promise Statement even important?

If we start from the premise that the ideal situation is to have a compelling and inspiring statement and live by it, a necessary ingredient and starting point is to actually get clear on and define what you are going to aim for and live up to.

Let’s take a step back and review some background on Collins and Sinek.

In Good to Great, Collins, one of the most influential business thinkers of all time, wrote:

“For, in the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work”.

He then goes on to say:

“Vision is simply a combination of three basic elements: (1) an organization’s fundamental reason for existence beyond just making money (often called its mission or purpose), (2) its timeless unchanging core values, and (3) huge and audacious—but ultimately achievable—aspirations for its own future (I like to call these BHAGs, or Big Hairy Audacious Goals). Of these, the most important to great, enduring organizations are its core values.”

Subsequently, in 2009 Sinek published Start with Why, summarized in a widely circulated and viewed TEDx talk (54M views and counting – for a business video!). In the book and video, Sinek outlines his views on how great leaders inspire others to work with their companies, whether it be their employees, customers, or even investors for that matter.

The crux of Sinek’s framework is that while most companies talk about what they sell or provide, the most enduring companies and brands start with – you guessed it – why they do what they do. They proceed to explain how they go about it, and finally what they offer.

The most enduring companies and brands start with why they do what they do, then they explain how they go about it, and finally what they offer (Adapted from Simon Sinek, Start with Why).

In other words, they give you an inspiring, emotion-based reason for wanting to work with them, beyond a straight commodity and feature-based comparison vs their competition. They thereby differentiate themselves on a more primal and fundamental emotional level before backing it up with the substance of their product or service offerings. This approach is supported by research that has shown that for complex decisions (like deciding where to work), people buy on emotion and seek to justify with logic.

The Company Promise Statement

Just as our work and personal lives are becoming increasingly intertwined, yet another of those pre-existing trends accelerated by COVID lockdowns, there is integrity and cohesion in having one vision statement that serves both internal and external purposes. As such, let’s bring Collins’s Vision Statement, Sinek’s Start with Why and others together into one, holistic statement for all key stakeholders. I call this combined statement the Company Promise Statement.

What is a Company Promise Statement?

It’s a promise to all key stakeholders engaged with the company: a statement of your company’s purpose, vision, mission, and core values that – when applied and adhered to fairly and consistently – declares to the world who you are and what you stand for. It is a guide for your team on the direction you are headed as a company, and how you will behave in getting there.

Living the Company Promise Statement

Like most promises, a Company Promise Statement is an aspirational commitment: if you act in accordance with your promise, you are in integrity. If you don’t in any specific situation, you acknowledge it, identify the cause of the breakdown, and recommit to the Promise and the elements laid out therein. It is the ongoing commitment, reinforcement and re-commitment by the whole team, led by the CEO and leadership team with the actions to back it up, that give the Company Promise Statement its strength and credibility within and outside the company.

You are in integrity when you act in accordance with your promise (or when you fulfill your promise, or even honour your promise). A company, like an individual, that does not fulfill its promises is effectively lying, and that erodes trust in them and their offerings.

Based on my discussions with CEOs, I would list and order the key elements of the Company Promise Statement as follows:

  • Purpose: Why we exist and are driven to do what we do
  • Values: How we govern our behaviours and interactions
  • Mission: What we do on a weekly, daily, and hourly basis
  • Vision: The world we want to bring into existence

These can be used as a guiding North Star and extended into qualitative brand elements including:

  • Brand Identity
  • Brand Promise
  • Brand Image
  • Brand Positioning
  • Personality
  • Slogan
  • and more

And into quantitative operational elements, such as:

  • BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal
  • 3HAG – 3-year Highly Achievable Goal
  • Annual Goals
  • Quarterly, Monthly, Weekly Goals

Start With Purpose

This upcoming series of posts is focused on the audience of individuals who already believe in a Company Promise’s beneficial power and impact. We will dive into how to put together an effective Company Promise Statement, including definitions, proposed guidelines, and examples. Next, we start with Purpose.

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My name is Alexander Rink. Drawing upon over 20 years of experience growing early-stage companies, my team and I help CEOs and Boards of Directors of companies from $1M to $25M in revenues identify and resolve strategic and organizational challenges to accelerate their company’s growth in a capital efficient manner.

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