The Heart of your Business Story
Did you know that the word “Happy” is repeated 67 times in Pharrell Williams’ hit song? It’s the perfect example of aligning a song to one word and one topic. Lyrics, music, and production: everything supports the “Happy” feel.
A great business mission also focuses on the essence of the company. It summarizes the story, it gives employees the vibe to sing (or better: work) along and to align their daily activities to this purpose. The mission states who you are and which principles you follow.
Here is the first of four songwriting hacks to help you evaluate and reshape your business mission from a songwriter’s perspective.
#1: THE HEART OF THE STORY
Lessons from Katy Perry, McDonald’s, Adele, BP
The chorus is the heart of the song. The mission is the heart of the company.
It sums up what the story is all about. From the Beatles’ “Let It Be” to the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” to Adele’s “Set Fire To The Rain”, the chorus section summarizes our songwriting endeavors.
Commercially successful song choruses are concise, catchy, clear, and convincing. They deliver the statement and message that sums up the songwriter’s intention. The chorus captures the reason why the song has been written. It brings the writer’s artistic vision to life, from the expression of societal topics to the desire to go to a party to unrequited love.
Think of “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus: “I came in like a wrecking ball … never hit so hard … break your walls … you wreck me…”. This is a strong picture and summarizes the story, which is built upon this analogy. The chorus glues together the whole song, it completes the picture and it is supported by everything else – the other parts of the song, the melody, the music production. The chorus doesn’t worry about story details. It’s the job of the verses to show us how things move on, to reveal struggles, difficulties and mundane details of our story. As in Wrecking Ball the verses are bout: “We clawed, we chained our hearts in vain … we jumped … we kissed … you let me burn … we’re ashes on the ground …”. You could think of it as big picture or mission in the chorus and daily tasks and activities in the song verses.
Listen to Adele’s “Someone Like You”: “Never mind, I’ll find someone like you … I wish nothing but the best for you … don’t forget me … but sometimes it hurts …”. In the chorus, Adele summarizes the story about her heartbroken, still upright state of mind. She doesn’t explain how or why this happened, neither does she lose herself in details. The aching news that her ex-boyfriend has “settled down”, “found a girl” who probably “gave him the things he needed” are part of the verses. Again: big picture (chorus) and details (verses).
Look at Katy Perry’s hit song “Roar”. The verses talk about her struggles: “I used to bite my tongue … agreed politely … I fell for everything … I had enough”. That’s the development, but not the reason of the song which is much stronger: “I got the eye of the tiger … dancing through the fire … a champion … you gonna hear me roar.” This is as powerful as it gets, from the daily routine to the reason for being – from compromises in daily business tasks to the business mission. The chorus is about the ideal version of the singer, and her life’s mission she is about to accomplish through the chorus’ message.
It’s the same for organizations: The mission is the heart of the enterprise. It sums up what the story is all about, who an organization is and who it chooses to be through the daily activities of its employees.
Show us, don't tell us
Does your mission actually tell the story of your company? Do you choose actions based on your mission or is it wishful thinking? “The purpose of a system is what it does.” These words by the management pioneer Stafford Beer underline that it’s not so much about beautiful words but about summarizing who you are.
McDonald’s mission states “… to be our customers’ favorite place and way to eat and drink.” The foremost value on the company’s website is: “We place the customer experience at the core of all we do.” However, McDonald’s received the lowest customer satisfaction score of all major US fast food and restaurant chains in 2014, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI).
This reminds me of a song performance I saw some time ago. The singer performed a song about being tired of love affairs, telling us that she’s actually being a shy girl. However, what she showed during her performance was quite the opposite: we witnessed a stage performance full of sensual body movements and gestures, telling the audience: “Look at me, I’m beautiful.” Words and actions didn’t fit. There are two ways to fix this: either changing the way of the song performance or changing the song itself.
If there is a gap between mission and actions, people can’t take you seriously. That’s the worst that can happen to artists and to companies. Think about the struggles when the behavior of former teenie music idols doesn't match their artistic mission they built in the past, like the awkward phases of Britney Spears (bald-head phase) and Justin Bieber (including the insulting-a-former-president phase).
Miley Cyrus had a quite short and successful transition to a whole new artistic mission. She managed to make a believable move to a new personality, mission and public appearance that’s as far from her original Hannah Montana Disney character as left is from right. She managed to successfully navigate through that awkward stage when mission and actions didn’t fit (remember that 2014 MTV twerk thing?).
BP is still in the awkward stage. It wants to be the nice Hannah Montana persona but showed the world an obscene MTV twerk: BP tried hard to be the first green oil company, at least in the public view, it promised to go “Beyond Petroleum”, but didn’t change its “dirty oil company behavior”. The environmental and PR disaster of Deepwater Horizon revealed this at an enormously high cost for nature and BP. Simply don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t.
Strengths, Demand and Meaning
To sum up your story and to make it important for you and for your clients, you have to figure your strengths and what you can do better than others. What is it that makes you unique and what comes naturally to you? Are you faster, bigger, more experienced, cooler, closer to the customers or more reliable than others? What makes your organization stand out from the crowd, what underlines your strengths, and what is important to you? Even if your advantage isn’t big compared to others, you have to build from that.
Since strengths are important only if there is a demand in the market, you have to think about the needs of your (prospective) customers. To create value, the challenge is to use your inherent strengths to fit this demand.
Also, do you find meaning in your endeavors? Are you working strictly 9-5 or are you willing to go the extra mile if things aren't going that smooth (and if there is no bonus payment in sight)? The mission reveals who your company is and therefore also which employees you attract. Go for the highest standards in what you’re doing, but don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t.
Creating your mission is far too important to outsource the main thought process to an external consulting or PR company. The mission is the heart of your enterprise, the heart of what you’re doing. YOU have to sit down and think and write and create and (re)formulate who your company is – like a songwriter working on the lyrics for a meaningful song.
In my next blog post, you'll learn about the second songwriting hack and implications for your mission statement.
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