Finding Your North Star – Vision Language That Sticks

Is your mission statement memorable, inspirational, and coherent?

The "North Star" of your organization answers this simple question, "Why do we exist as a company?" Great leaders create language that captures mission in a clear and memorable way.
Now, the last thing you need to start your day is a lecture on mission statements. You've sat through those before and you've heard people talk about how important mission statements are. But, I've got to say this, 24 years ago and 25 million copies ago Stephen Covey and his book "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" talked about the value of mission statements and I was one of those poor souls that when the book came out thought I got to have the book, bought the book, read the entire book, many of you have multiple copies of his book hopefully.

But in his book if you'll remember, in his whole talk about mission statements, the whole idea of coming up with one thing that drives an organization, that's kind of the North Star for an organization. He talks about the Ritz Carlton company, you probably remember this. At that time my dad was a friend to Bill Johnson who owned the Ritz Carlton company. He's a resident here in Atlanta. So through my dad I was able to meet Bill and Sandra, Sandra's his wife, my wife's name is Sandra, so we had this magic connection through the names of our wives. I'm not sure why that worked. We became friends.

So one afternoon we were driving somewhere and I turned to Bill, who is a very successful guy and very wealthy guy. I said, "Bill, I'm reading 7 Habits, Stephen Covey says at the Ritz Carlton that even the bellmen have a mission statement." I said, "Bill really? Really, the bellmen have a mission statement? How do you get someone at that level in the organization to embrace the idea of one simple thing that's going to drive there job description?" He said, "The only way to understand that is to go to our training for maids, cooks, and bellmen." I said, "So you have a training for maids, cooks, and bellmen?" He said, "Yeah, would you like to attend our training for maids, cooks, and bellmen?" I said, "I absolutely would."

So me and a couple buddies loaded up and we went and spent two days at Ritz Carlton in Buckhead and went through the training for maids, cooks, and bellmen. I didn't learn a thing about cooking or making a bed or standing at a door. But I learned something extraordinarily important in those two days. That there is extraordinary power and there is extraordinary clarity that comes into any job or any environment when you reduce it down to the one thing that has to be done and you're able to answer the question "What are we doing?" I wish I had time to tell you about those two days because they were extraordinary.

It just imprinted on me as a young leader that wherever you are, whatever you're doing you need to be able to answer the question quickly and simply, "What are we doing?" because answering that question brings clarity in an environment that's extraordinarily complex. You've heard the answer to the question for the maids, the bellmen, the cooks at the Ritz Carlton company. I sat there as Horst Schulze, who's a German, who was leading that team that day and leading the training. Another Atlanta resident, incredible guy. As he helped this group of people, many of them couldn't even speak English, they had translators, helped this group of people embrace this simple idea you've heard before. That we are ladies and gentlemen serving, we are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.

No matter what happens. No matter how chaotic things get at the hotel, no matter how quickly things have to be served in the restaurant, no matter how crazy things get, just remember this, here's what you're here for, you are ladies and gentlemen serving... I watched a group of people who had probably been through very little training in their whole lives rise to the occasion and begin to embrace the idea. As he said, "You are not servants. You are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen."

After two days I walked out and I thought for the rest of my life I want to be able to answer succinctly "What am I doing?" I want everybody who ever answers me to whatever organization I'm involved in to be able to answer succinctly and simply, "What am I doing?"

Here's the problem. The mist. The mist in your mind will eventually become a fog in your organization. If it's not absolutely clear to you and you're not able to say it in a way that's portable, in a way that's memorable, what are you doing? What are we doing? That mist, that little bit of lack of clarity it becomes a fog for everybody who is working for you. Or I could say it this way, if you don't know exactly what you're doing, if you don't know exactly what you're doing you're going to have a difficult time doing it.

Andy Stanley

Leadership communicator, best-selling author and founding pastor Andy Stanley inspires tens of thousands of people. Andy founded Atlanta-based North Point Ministries in 1995, leading six churches in the Atlanta area and a network of 3...

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