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Smart companies recognize the value of tapping into their employees’ values, of making their work meaningful. One of the ways they do this is by creating a mission statement. Some go even further and distill their mission statements down to what I call the company’s Big Idea. A carefully crafted “Big Idea” statement can simply and memorably explain why the organization exists, and what difference it makes. It can give an organization a personality. The measure of the statements effectiveness comes when every employee is able to reference it and instantly ask and answer the question “Am I doing it now or not?”

For example, Marriott Hotels’ Big Idea is “We make people away from home feel as if they’re among friends.” It’s brilliant, and easy to remember. Anyone from the head of public relations to the clerk at the front desk to the housekeeper in the rooms to the pastry chef in the kitchen can ask himself or herself, “Am I doing it now or not?” If the answer is “Yes,” the company is on track, if it’s “No” he or she will know that it’s time to make a change. That’s the empowering effect of a well-considered Big Idea Statement—it makes every employee a stakeholder in the company’s mission and gives them the power to monitor and maintain the company’s mission.

Here are some other Big Idea statements that simply and effectively the underlying goals of the company:

  • Wal-Mart: We give ordinary folks the chance to buy the same things as rich people.
  • Mary Kay Cosmetics: We give unlimited opportunity to women.
  • Merck: We preserve and improve human life.
  • Coca-Cola: We refresh the world.
  • 3M: We solve unsolved problems innovatively.
  • Walt Disney: We make people happy.

Not one of these Big Idea statements refers directly to a product or service. They refer to what the company does. It’s not hard to imagine that a sales representative from Merck feels that she can push a little harder on a sales call when she knows the company’s goal is to preserve and improve human life. Do you think it’s difficult for any employee of the above companies to ask herself, “Am I doing it now or not?” Do you think the asking and the answer affect the bottom line? You bet your boots they do. Charles Revson put it beautifully, “At the Revlon factory we make cosmetics, at the drugstore we sell hope.”

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