How your Mission Can Drive Business Results

Traditionally non-profits exaggerate the difference between themselves and business and define their identity in opposition to business--being mission vs. profit-oriented.  These categories increasingly merge, especially as a new generation of business leaders balances profit with social mission.  One such leader is Chipotle CEO Steve Ells, the subject of an article in Fast Company by its chief editor, Robert Safian.   

First thing to note is that Ells, along with other business innovators, belongs to what Safian calls Generation Flux. According to Safian, “Fluxers are defined not by their chronological age but by their willingness and ability to adapt. These are the people who are defining where business and culture are moving. And purpose is at the heart of their actions.”

Ells’ purpose was to provide customers with "Food With Integrity."  This was the mission Chipotle was designed to carry out.  Safian sees this mission as the differentiator between Chipotle and the myriads of other fast food chains, and the reason for its phenomenal success.  

Many non-profit organizations, including associations, use their mission passively--as marketing slogans, pat statements of value, gatekeepers of the status quo at the expense of new needs and opportunities. Chipotle actively lives its mission. It does not confuse it with value proposition --"Is that ever going to be the reason people come into the store? 'Oh, I want to eat food with integrity right now!' I don't think so," says its CEO. Instead, ‘Food With Integrity’ animates every decision the company makes, from the slaughterhouse to the food line at your local outlet to the strategic planning at the Denver headquarters.”

Chipotle’s culture and marketing strategy reinforce this mission.  Chipotle just does not act or feel like an impersonal fast food company whose metrics are based on numbers, such as speed, volume and savings.  Its menu is limited and priced much higher than, say, Burger King or Mac Donald’s. Yet the ingredients are fresh and organic and food is actually cooked on the premises rather than simply thawed and heated or grilled.

All non-profits I worked or consulted with had great difficulty in integrating their mission with the need to generate revenue. As a result, a fundamental dishonesty and tension characterizes their culture in which organizations are consumed with generating revenue (sales, members, registrations, donations, sponsorships, etc.) while at the same time publicly disparaging business goals and pretending that their only motivation is the public good.

Chipotle, like Apple and other companies driven by a higher vision in addition to profit, do not have such dichotomy.  “Don't confuse this with social service,” Safian reminds us “For these folks, a mission is the essential strategic tool that allows them to filter the modern barrage of stimuli, to motivate and engage those around them, and to find new and innovative ways to solve the world's problems… Businesses that find and then live by their mission often discover that it becomes their greatest competitive advantage.”   And it is this strategic, integrated and purposeful use of mission and vision that are at the heart of growth.


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  • commented 2014-10-27 16:22:53 -0400
    Thanks Joe. You are exactly right. Mission has to be authentic and living. It has to be reflected by the culture, strategy, practices and able to motivate and create meaning for others. The gap between what we say and what we do is a problem.
  • commented 2014-10-24 10:42:16 -0400
    Thanks for sharing this, Anna. Great example of how mission should be ingrained into everything an organization does, rather than just a slogan sometimes referred to. I like that you called out the point that people don’t go to Chipotle for the mission; they go for the exceptional food. Of course, the food is exceptional precisely because of the mission. I think that’s the lesson for associations in how mission can build an exceptional association that people are drawn to.

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