The Importance of Foundational Elements
Stepping up from being a solopreneur or a small agency to a team of more than five employees is a significant milestone. Yet, it comes with its own set of challenges, mainly maintaining a consistent direction and unified team. This is where setting a clear vision, mission, and core values becomes pivotal.
You’ve probably heard the saying, "leaders who fail to plan, plan to fail." This is especially true when your agency crosses that five-employee mark. Why so? Because with a growing team, there's an increased risk of ambiguity creeping into your operations. From ambiguous metrics and results to hiring employees who don't quite fit your culture, the consequences can be detrimental. It can also lead to an inefficient allocation of resources, both time and money. That’s why, it’s paramount that as a leader, you know what your business stands for, the unique problem it solves, and for whom, and more importantly, where it’s heading.
What are Vision, Mission, and Core Values?
Before diving in, let's first understand these foundational elements.
Vision: Your agency's vision is your long-term goal. It's where you see your agency in the future. This is about the big picture and your aspirations for your agency's impact on the world or your industry.
Mission: Your agency's mission is a specific statement that details the purpose of your business. It defines what your agency does, who it serves, and why your work is important. It's about how your agency will achieve its vision.
Core Values: These are the fundamental beliefs of your agency. They guide the behavior and decision-making within the agency and shape your agency's culture and identity.
Without your vision, mission, and core values, you might find your agency running at full speed, but without a clear destination in sight. Trust me, I've been there myself when I was scaling my own company Ditto. That's why I want to share with you how setting these foundational elements can guide your agency to sustainable growth.
How to Establish Your Vision, Mission, and Core Values in Your Agency
Discover Your 'Why'
It all begins with 'why'. It’s the reason you started this venture in the first place. I'm borrowing here from Simon Sinek who said, "People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe."
Sit down and think about your personal journey. What inspired you to start your agency? Was it a specific experience or a particular change you wanted to bring about in your industry? Let me share with you a bit about my 'why'. I started Ditto because I wanted to help founders like me eliminate team burnout. It wasn’t just about what we were doing; it was about the real difference we were making.
And here’s another thing. We as founders often understand our clients better than anyone else because we've been in their shoes. We understand their pain points, their needs, and what drives them. So, use that understanding. Ask yourself why your ideal client needs your agency's services. Once you know that, show up for them in that way, consistently.
Discovering your 'why' is a deeply personal and introspective process. It's not about crafting a catchy slogan or coming up with a quick sales pitch. Your 'why' gets to the heart of your agency's purpose. It drives everything you do and can be a powerful motivator for both you and your team as you work towards your vision every day.
Once you've figured out your ‘why’, wear it like a badge of honor. Let it infuse every aspect of your agency, from your company culture and team dynamics to your marketing strategies and client interactions. That's the power of 'why'. It's the first, and arguably, the most important step in establishing your vision, mission, and core values.
Craft Your Vision
Now that you've got your 'why', it's time to paint a picture of where your agency is headed. This is your vision. It's your long-term goal that should be compelling enough to inspire and mobilize your team.
The vision should be ambitious and forward-looking, something that excites your team and motivates them to move towards that goal. This isn't about setting practical objectives for the next quarter. Instead, imagine where you want your agency to be in five or ten years' time.
I found Cameron Herold's book, 'Vivid Vision,' to be a great guide when I was crafting my company’s vision. Cameron suggests that you should kick off the process by imagining your agency's future three years from now. Forget about limitations or constraints that you might be currently facing. Think about every facet—your team, the projects you handle, your company's standing in the market, and more. Then, write it down as a narrative or like a story. It should be so vivid that anyone reading it could almost see it as if it were real. Finally, share your vivid vision with everyone linked to your business and let it guide every decision you make.
Now let's get a bit more structured. I'm a huge fan of the Vision/Traction Organizer (V/TO) from the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) created by Gino Wickman, and I’ve used it to nail down the specifics of Ditto’s future. This approach pushes you to identify the change you wish to bring about and breaks down your overarching vision into actionable steps, like improving services or diversifying your client base. It also helps you anticipate potential roadblocks. By planning for challenges, you're not just reacting to problems but proactively preparing for them and this enhances your agency's resilience.
In a nutshell, crafting your vision is a blend of aspiration, anticipation, and meticulous planning. It's an exercise that not only sets the course for your agency's journey but also acts as a constant source of motivation and guidance for everyone involved.
Define Your Mission
Once your vision is set, the next step is to define your mission, the day-to-day operations that drive your agency towards the bigger vision. This statement, or your Purpose in the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) lingo, is the core focus of your business. It should serve as a succinct explanation of what your agency does, for whom, and why it matters.
Take Ditto’s mission statement as an example: “We help business leaders boost efficiency by optimizing their systems and standardizing the way their teams work.” Here, it's clear what we do (boost efficiency), for whom we do it (business leaders), and how we do it (by optimizing systems and standardizing team operations). It’s specific, actionable, and ties directly into our larger vision.
When you're crafting your mission statement, consider the unique strengths of your agency. What do you offer that sets you apart? And who are the clients who will benefit most from that? Answering these questions in your mission statement helps not only in making strategic decisions but also in attracting the right clientele and talent.
Establish Your Core Values
Now that you've identified your 'why' and charted out your vision and mission, it's time to cement the core values that form your agency's foundation. These values will personify your agency's identity and ethos and tie it back to your 'why'.
There's no set number of values you should have but a good rule of thumb is to aim for 3 to 7. This range is sufficient to represent your company's ethos without diluting its message or confusing your team.
For example, imagine you run a marketing agency that's all about innovative strategies and client-focused service. Your core values might look something like this:
Innovation: We value creative thinking and encourage fresh ideas. We don’t hesitate in taking calculated risks if it means delivering cutting-edge solutions to our clients.
Client-Centric: Our clients are at the center of everything we do. We aim to understand their needs and provide services tailored to help them succeed.
Integrity: We believe in always doing the right thing. Honesty and transparency are non-negotiable in all our interactions both internally and with clients.
Teamwork: We believe that collaboration fosters the best results. We support and learn from each other and recognize that everyone has a unique contribution to make.
It's crucial that you don't lose sight of your core values, because they’re the essence of your agency. In this phase of growth, it becomes even more essential to ensure every new hire and every partnership you form aligns with these core values. When everyone on your team shares these values, you'll have a cohesive unit moving towards the same vision. It's no longer about individuals working for you. Instead, you'll have a collective body working with you. This alignment is the key to maintaining your agency's identity, culture, and purpose, even as you scale up. After all, the strength of your agency is reflected in the people who stand by its values.
Involve and Align Your Team
Bringing your team into the fold while shaping your agency's foundational elements is an integral part of the process. This isn't a solitary exercise. You're defining the DNA of your agency, which your team is a significant part of. Here are steps to do this:
Ask for their input: Don't wait until you've crafted your foundational elements to share them with your team. Instead, involve them from the beginning and listen to their ideas. You might be surprised by the fresh perspectives they bring to the table.
Value their contributions: Make sure your team knows that their input is valued and appreciated. Recognize their contributions to your agency's foundational elements. This makes them feel like they’re a part of the process and strengthens their commitment to the vision and values you're establishing.
Align their goals: The key to a cohesive team is ensuring everyone's personal career goals align with the agency's vision and mission. Encourage open conversations about their aspirations and discuss how their personal development journey can parallel the agency's growth trajectory.
By building an inclusive and collaborative environment, you're creating an agency that is a true reflection of its people. You’ll also find that this collective identity will resonate with your clients and partners.
Guide Your Business Decisions
When you've laid the foundation for your agency with a clear 'why', vision, mission, and core values, these elements should guide your business decisions. Here’s how these elements can help in your day-to-day operations and long-term planning:
Strategic Decisions: Whether you're considering a new service to add to your offerings or bringing new team members on board, these foundational elements point you in the right direction. Before making any significant decision, ask yourself: Does this align with my 'why'? Is this moving us closer to realizing our vision? Is it in harmony with our mission and core values? You're less likely to go off course when your decisions are grounded in your foundational elements.
Branding and Reputation: When your clients and partners see that you're true to your mission and core values in all aspects, they'll trust you more and perceive you as reliable and authentic.
Stability and Direction: Your team also benefits from this consistency. With clear direction and an understanding of the bigger picture, they'll feel more secure and motivated.
Preventing Misaligned Decisions: Having these guiding principles in place acts as a safeguard against decisions that may derail your growth. If a proposed action doesn't align with your foundational elements, it's a clear signal to reconsider. This helps avoid potential pitfalls and keeps your agency's growth steady and focused.
By tapping into your 'why', vision, mission, and core values, you can navigate the complex world of business with greater confidence, consistency, and clarity and help you achieve sustainable growth.
Measure the Impact
At last, having your foundational elements in place is a great start, but it's only half of the equation. The other half? Measuring the impact they're having on your agency's operations. After all, what gets measured gets managed.
I find OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results, a great tool to gauge the influence of my foundational elements on the company’s operations. They provide a structured way to set goals (Objectives) and measure progress toward them using quantifiable metrics (Key Results).
Let's consider Ditto's core value of "continual improvement" as an example. To really capture its impact on my agency in a tangible way, I need to establish clear-cut metrics. This could include things like tracking improvements in process efficiency or reductions in error rates. Keeping a close eye on these metrics allows my team and me to see exactly how well we're living out our core value of continual improvement in our everyday work. This isn't just about showing our commitment to always getting better. It also sets us apart as an agency. We don't just deliver solutions. We're always on the lookout for ways to improve and raise the bar, and these metrics help us keep track of how well we're doing that.
Creating OKRs related to your vision, mission, and core values ensures that these foundational elements aren't just nice words on a website. They become ingrained in the way your agency operates. That said, it’s not a one-and-done deal. Regularly review these metrics. Adjust and update your OKRs as needed. Your agency will evolve, and so too will your goals and the ways you measure them.
If you ever find yourself questioning where to start, always begin with your 'why', especially when you're in the growth phase of your agency. As your team expands, these guiding principles become more crucial than ever. They unify your team and provide a direction that everyone can align with. Don't forget to establish clear metrics to measure the effectiveness of your vision, mission, and core values, ensuring they stay relevant as your agency evolves.
These foundational elements are what shape your culture and guide all decisions. They ensure that everyone—team members and clients alike—understand what your agency stands for. This alignment is the key to navigating your agency's growth and achieving sustainable success.