Your organization’s story is about MORE than a mission statement, strategy, and clear goals – it’s about the CONTEXT that creates meaning.
In all my reading I’ve not been able to find (or compile) anything as strong and complete as what is expressed by Ben Horowitz, the cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm with investments in Facebook, Twitter and Airbnb. I’m sharing a full excerpt from his book The Hard Thing About Hard Things.
Bold emphasis is mine. Translate all of this to our ‘Impact world’.
The CEO must set the context within which every employee operates. The context gives meaning to the specific work that people do, aligns interests, enables decision making, and provides motivation. Well-structured goals and objectives contribute to the context, but they do not provide the whole story. More to the point, they are not the story. The story of the company goes beyond quarterly or annual goals and gets to the hard-core question of why. Why should I join this company? Why should I be excited to work here? Why should I buy its product? Why should I invest in the company? Why is the world better off as a result of this company’s existence? When a company clearly articulates its story, the context for everyone— employees, partners, customers, investors, and the press— becomes clear. When a company fails to tell its story, you hear phrases like
- These reporters don’t get it.
- Who is responsible for the strategy in this company?
- We have great technology, but need marketing help.
The CEO doesn’t have to be the creator of the vision. Nor does she have to be the creator of the story. But she must be the keeper of the vision and the story. As such, the CEO ensures that the company story is clear and compelling.
The story is not the mission statement; the story does not have to be succinct. It is the story. Companies can take as long as they need to tell it, but they must tell it and it must be compelling. A company without a story is usually a company without a strategy.
Want to see a great company story? Read Jeff Bezos’s three-page letter he wrote to shareholders in 1997. In telling Amazon’s story in this extended form— not as a mission statement, not as a tagline— Jeff got all the people who mattered on the same page as to what Amazon was about.
Horowitz, Ben (2014-03-04). The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers (p. 237). HarperCollins.
I LOVE this framing. And, I can’t post without a coaching point for sales people (fundraisers). We, as fundraisers, must do everything we can to help CREATE, SUPPORT and OWN the story. It’s too easy to say, “Leadership doesn’t get it.” In my estimation 90% of companies and nonprofits don’t really understand the power of STORY as something that SHAPES meaning, strategy and impact.