The Mission Must Be the Mantra

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In Jim Collins’ book, Built to Last, there’s a chapter devoted to “cult-like cultures.” It’s the idea that the best companies build employee engagement that approaches – but doesn’t quite reach – a level of insanity. Employees at those companies have interesting (and often weird) monikers: They sing fight songs, go through intensive and rigorous training, and are self-policing in ensuring that the principles of the company are delivered by every single person, every single day.

The cultures of those companies aren’t rooted in bland values and corporate mission statements – they’re rooted in a clear-eyed, absolutist, nearly religious belief in the way things should be done in their industry.

Collins’ analysis is grounded in the internal workings of great companies. But as a financial advisor, it’s important to recognize that a clear mission doesn’t just drive your culture, it also drives your client acquisition as well.

Here’s why: Take a look at your top 10 competitors and what they say are their “differentiators.” Odds are, all 10 of those companies will offer your exact products and services. Nine of them will mention that they put “clients first.” Eight of them will be telling clients that they have values like “innovation,” “independence,” and “personalization”.

Without a clear mission, they all sound just like you.

But take a look at the firms who built themselves to win. Charles Schwab didn’t just put clients first – the company created a disruptive model that delivered lower costs and took the conflict out of the brokerage business. Edward Jones didn’t just believe in personalized service – it created a “small-office” model that created richer relationships in the small communities where the offices were centered. Vanguard – while it didn’t start as an advisory firm – has always taken a dramatically different approach to investing and structured its business, products and culture to deliver on that belief.