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Tweak Your Company’s Mission Statement to Inspire Sustainability With Just One Word

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Companies have vision statements that summarize their values for a reason — employees that get on board with your mission and vision tend to work harder for you, and according to the Dale Carnegie institute, companies with engaged workers outperform competitors by 202%. Still, as the current focus on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) demonstrates, times change. You’ll have to update your vision to keep pace with this new ESG focus, but as little as one word can be all you need to improve your relevancy and influence.

Related: Vision Statements: Why You Need One and How to Create One

Brief and built into everything

Good vision statements are memorable. To achieve that memorability, your best bet is to keep your new, ESG-oriented vision statement as brief as possible.

Take Cisco. If they had written something like “to build voice-over-IP systems that utilize the most advanced internet connection technologies, are the best in the industry, and return a great value to our shareholders,” people probably wouldn’t have given the words more than a quick skim before moving on to something more interesting. Their actual vision, “changing the way we work, live, play and learn,” is more to the point and free of jargon. It gets across that Cisco wants to be a change agent and that it understands the significance of connection and communication in our world.

At Merchants Fleet, we adhered to this rule of simplicity first by consolidating the multiple vision statements we had for different areas of the business into just one: “Enabling the movement of people, goods and services freely.” To update this for ESG later on, we added a single word: “responsibly.”

Once you have a concise vision statement that incorporates some ESG values, you’re not done. You then have to go back and look at all the training and messaging your company has. Are the ESG values there, too?

Ensuring that the values are consistently visible in everything you do supports buy-in to the vision statement because it shows your team that you’re serious about the ESG shift and are going to follow it up with a real plan of action. At the same time, the concise vision statement helps workers understand why you’re approaching the training and messaging the way you are.

Related: Why Companies Need to Think More Strategically About Their Environmental Impact

Perspective and keeping promises matter

When we added the word “responsibly” to our vision to ensure it had an ESG focus, we recognized a critical point — “responsibly” means different things to different people.

If our business suddenly got rid of every gas vehicle we’ve got, it would seem responsible to clients who are fully behind electric cars, vans and trucks. But it would seem irresponsible to clients who don’t have a lot of charging stations around or who have to travel distances that are still beyond the range of an electric vehicle (EV). For one of our clients, it didn’t make financial sense to try to install the infrastructure EVs would have required.

In the same way, our company’s diversity profiles in New Hampshire and Chicago are very different. In New Hampshire, our profile is at 5% diversity, yet that’s higher than the New Hampshire average. In Chicago, we’re 45% diverse, simply because that area is more diverse overall. To require 45% diversity would seem responsible in Chicago but near impossible in New Hampshire.

So as you adapt for ESG, be careful to give the word or words you add careful thought and avoid absolutes, even as you push for something that’s still specific. The words should be acceptable and understandable on a broad level, but they should also be flexible enough that you can still meet the needs and expectations of your entire base. They shouldn’t alienate anyone, including your employees.

Similarly, make sure that your mission statement is realistic and attainable. If you choose a word that makes it impossible to follow through on your promise, customers will see that you’re not doing what you said and lose faith in you. Suppose you’re an airline company. If you added the phrase “on time” to your mission statement, you’d be opening the door to a massive number of complaints, as there are just too many variables around airlines to promise you’ll hit every time point perfectly. If you add “safely,” though, that’s much easier to achieve consistently.

The best practice is to aim for something that’s timeless and a little better than what you had. Leave buzzwords and trends on the shelf because the more you change your vision statement, the less memorable or sticky it will be.

Related: Three Letters That Will Make Your Company More Successful and Sustainable

The journey, action, and accountability are all ongoing

Keeping in mind that there’s a connection between your ESG vision statement and the practices of your company, consider your vision statement an ongoing journey. Revisit it on a regular basis to make sure it still works for you in an authentic way.

Any time you tweak your statement and add more words, make sure you have an execution plan and accountability. When we added “responsibly” to Merchants Fleet’s vision statement, we were clear that we were adding an ESG team. But your moves could also include reorganizing, doing more training or developing checks and balances. Expect to sum up what you’re doing and the results you’re getting in reports along the way. The rule is to understand that you’re signing up to develop new goals and take additional action with whatever you add.

Related: Why ESG Companies Are Better Equipped to Weather an Economic Storm

ESG can deliver both stability and positive change

Even though ESG is getting more press than it used to, it’s something great companies have always practiced, and the need to connect your ethics to your action will always be relevant. ESG values can ground your business through multiple generations in a powerful way. At the same time, they can help you continuously explore how you can still grow to be a larger help to everyone around you. If you integrate those values into your vision statement, which is the foundation for everything you do, you’ll get the buy-in necessary for the positive change you want.

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