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21 Aug. 2013 | Comments (0)

Whether you’re crafting a mission statement, vision statement, or rally cry for your organization, you obviously want to find words that will resonate with clients, prospects, current employees, and potential hires. The right message will prove to be an attractive force with all of these stakeholders. 

But what’s even more interesting is that it’s also critical to craft messaging that actually will repel some potential customers, partners, and employees. That seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Why on earth would a business want to drive away a potential client or customer?

It turns out that there are many legitimate reasons. One great example comes from the early years of the McDonald’s restaurant empire. According to the book, Making History: A History of the United States Since 1865, by Carol Berkin and others, the McDonald brothers, Maurice and Richard, actually were doing quite well financially with a traditional drive-in restaurant model. As a carhop-drive in, a store could handle 125 cars at a time. The menu was relatively broad, including ribs as well as barbecued pork and beef sandwiches, in addition to traditional hamburgers.

Yet, the brothers weren’t happy with what their business was. It didn’t resonate with their personal truths about who they were and what they wanted to be. They saw an opportunity to be more streamlined and efficient, and they envisioned their brand as a simple, clean restaurant that provided good value for families.

However, this meant saying no to some easy money. By eliminating various revenue generators – including jukeboxes, cigarette machines, pay phones, newsstands, and carhops – they were actively attempting to discourage teenagers from patronizing their business. In fact, they even determined that the carhops tended to make for unreliable employees, attracting leather-jacketed teenagers.  

The next step was simplifying the menu. While this made operations much simpler, it also surely put off some customers who liked the other items. Now, customers had fewer options. That seemed to be a risky move, too.

This line of thinking – later built upon when the business was taken over by Ray Kroc – seemed counterintuitive to pennywise restaurant owners of the 1950s. It took courage to drive away several revenue sources and to effectively say, “We’re not going to try to be everything to everybody; we’re going to focus on making our most important audience happy.” The rest is history: McDonald’s is the fourth most recognized global brand as of May 2013, trailing only after Apple, Google, and IBM.

When I was an SVP of Human Resources for furniture retailer, Raymour & Flanigan, we chose three fundamental truths to describe our organization: Walk the Talk, Raise the Bar, and Be One Team. We spelled out what each of those phrases really meant, knowing – and even hoping – that these truths would not resonate with all of our current or potential employees and customers. As legendary college basketball coach, John Wooden might say, “We felt that perhaps it would be best if they went to the competition!”

Here are three tips to keep in mind as you look to define your organization’s mission, vision, and secret sauce:

1. You don’t really want to win over everybody.
I’ve seen many leaders and organizations struggle because they hate to “limit” themselves by picking just one or two market segments or only a few key product or service lines. They hate to rule out low-price, high-volume customers or high-price, low-volume customers, so they try to market to both. They sometimes offer an incredibly wide variety of products and services because they can’t bear to eliminate an option that might appeal to someone, somewhere. As a result, there is real confusion in the marketplace and within the company.
2. Have the courage to just say no.
It takes courage to turn off the faucet of a potential revenue stream, but making everyone clear on what you aren’t is just as important as telling the world what you are. Think about it: If you needed to hire a consultant, would you rather hire someone who claims to be able to help you with any business problem? Or, would you prefer someone who makes clear that their specialty is the area where you really need expertise? Do you really want your organization to be devoting time and resources to non-recurring, low-profit business when you could be thrilling lasting customers who truly understand the value that you provide?

3. Leaders need to provide clarity about where to focus.
Ultimately, leaders need to communicate to create clarity – internally and externally. As a company, the leaders need to be able to answer the key mission and vision questions: Who are we? Why do we exist? Where are we going? Who do we serve? How do make life better for those that we serve?

With crisp, concise, and compelling communication, great leaders energize their teams and customers around a future in which all are striving to fulfill the possible dream. If that means repelling some potential customers and employees along the way, you might just be avoiding some recurring nightmares.


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  • About the Author:David Casullo

    David  Casullo

    David Casullo is president at Bates Communications, a national consulting firm specializing in leadership communication skills and strategy. His passion is developing leaders who have the courage and …

    Full Bio | More from David Casullo


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