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Ken Keller: Time to create or update your business charter

Posted: June 24, 2013 11:54 a.m.
Updated: June 24, 2013 11:54 a.m.

One of the most important things a leader can provide the organization they lead is tools.

I’m not talking about buying trucks, computers, marketing brochures or lunches for clients.

The tools I am referring to are words, put in such a way to provide direction, purpose, behaviors and a goal that is engaging.

I’ve been a fan of the “Dear Abby” type newspaper columns since I first picked up a newspaper. These types of columns are interesting, fun and educational.

Recently there was a letter from a young woman in college, who had different behaviors from her roommate and wanted advice how to deal with the gap.

The advice the columnist provided was appropriate and correct.

The first piece was to “stay true to yourself.” The second was to provide a process to define who this young woman was so that she would be more secure in herself. The columnist wrote: “The job … is to … answer these questions: Who am I? What do I want?”

I have always believed that leaders had an obligation to provide what I call “The Business Charter” for themselves, their employees, clients, vendors and shareholders.

This is the equivalent of asking the same questions the columnist was asking her reader.

The questions are thought-provoking, timely and when answered properly, provide energy and direction for the company.

The Business Charter consists of three mandatory components, and the fourth which is optional. Often companies display most or all of these on their website, on invoices and packing slips, on business cards and other promotional materials.

The first component is the core values of the company. Single words and short phrases describe how people should act as employees of the organization.

Often used values include teamwork, integrity, respect, accountability, loyalty, leadership, and creativity. Many companies choose to define their values with a short description to further explain the value.

The second component is the mission of the company. This is a short sentence, perhaps two in extreme cases, that describes what the organization does, who the client is, and how the client benefits from working with the company.

It is not the mission of any company to “make money.” Unfortunately, I worked for a couple of these types of firms who failed to understand that an appropriate core value could be profitability, or financial security, which would encompass cash flow, profits and a strong balance sheet.

The third component is the vision statement. This explains where the company is going. This helps individuals at all levels to get and stay engaged.

People need to know that the place that employs them has a future and that it is moving toward it. A vision should be no longer than a single, short sentence.

Just having the words described as a vision isn’t enough. People need to know the score; that forward progress that is being made. This helps people feel secure knowing that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

The fourth component is what I call the “main thing.” This combines the values, mission and vision into just a few short words.

The main thing is important because most employees won’t remember any of the other components but they will certainly be able to call out a short phrase. The best example is NASA’s main thing in the 1960s: “to the moon and back.”

To bring these components to life, the owner cannot have a different set of norms than employees. In fact, the owner must set the example for others to follow.

Regardless of age and stage of any organization, it is never too late to create or update the business charter.
Ken Keller is CEO of STAR Business Consulting Inc., a company that works with small and midsize business owners to grow top line revenue. He can be reached at Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.



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