It can be tempting right now to focus solely on your business's short-term solutions. But, paradoxically, smart long-term planning can make short-term survival more likely.
That's why every business leader, no matter how big or small your company, needs to take the time to write and share two key things: a mission statement and a list of core values.
If you haven't done this, it's worth blocking out a few hours, even in the midst of a global pandemic, to do so.
I've reviewed more than 100 small-business mission statements and core value statements recently. Here are some of the key takeaways to writing effective ones, and how they help business leaders make decisions in a crisis.
One of the most important things you can give people is a mission worth their time. So, both your mission statement and your core values should be attainable but challenging.
Jason Patel, 27, is the founder of Transizion, a college and career prep company with about 20 full-time equivalent employees, where two of his company's written core values are: "Constructive criticism is powerful" and "The standard is the standard."
A few years ago, he told me, Transizion launched a B2B product that was a "dream project" for him. But it wasn't gaining traction.
"After several iterations, we sat down for a team meeting," he told me. Given the written values around standards and constructive criticism, people felt empowered to speak frankly. "The values saved a lot of time and effort because we, namely I, were forced to confront the ineffective service."
They wound up shelving the product, which meant deferring the CEO's dream, but leaving time and energy to develop other more promising products.
Be brutally honest
Remember that you're writing your mission statement and core values for yourself, your employees, and your other stakeholders. So be true--brutally so--about what your mission and values really are.
For example, Robert Livingstone runs a merchant processing consulting firm called IdealCost.com, that advocates for small businesses with credit card processors. One of his company's core values is, "Don't let banks rob our clients."
Obviously, that's not a sentiment that people in the banking industry would find very appealing. But that's OK; they're not his stakeholders.
Livingstone told me he thinks of himself as "a shy networker," but reviewing core values before a networking event led him to write "Bank Robber" on his name tag.
"This helped me break the ice with many potential clients, many of which we still have many years later," he said.
I talked with Haley Bohon, the founder and CEO of SkillPop, which has been hosting in-person classes in several cities in the Southeastern U.S. for the past four years. With social distancing and people staying home, that business basically evaporated.
So, how do you continue to serve the same market and stakeholders? Fortunately, even with only four full-time employees (including herself), Bohon said they'd gone through the exercise of writing out core values. One of them is: "Stay scrappy."
That core value, she told me, inspired her team to transition to a 100 percent digital/virtual format, and launch a platform called "SkillPop Anywhere" in just three days.
"Because of our ability to move quickly and stay scrappy, we've been able to regain over 75 percent of our revenue in just five weeks and keep our entire full-time team employed," she told me.