Jedi Leadership II – Search within and mission find you will

Published by Maria Filipe
July 22, 2020 @ 4:59 PM

This article was written by Michał Paprocki, CTO at Euroclear with more than 17 years of experience in creating and managing IT centres as well as transforming financial companies into digital business models. Michał is recognised for leading successful agile transformations, for bringing a friendly ease to complexity and for his eagerness to challenge the status quo with out-of-the-galaxy thinking.

According to the Star Wars saga, the ultimate mission of the Jedi is to ensure peace in the galaxy. By tapping into the bright side of the force and restless efforts, the Jedi Order accumulated vast wisdom to serve as a global peacekeeper. As the movie plot develops their task becomes increasingly challenging, but the primary objective remains unchanged. Isn’t it how a great business mission statement should be defined?

We are living in a world of ever greater complexity and it is often the case that the future outlook remains worryingly blurry. The COVID-19 phenomenon could be perceived as yet another game changer that could and will magnify the existing meta trends. Hence no wonder that there are many ideas, diverse solutions to address problems and a wide array of competing organisations. One could observe this in professional business context, but it is also very much visible in private life. Just think about which source of news you are following or who are the experts you trust most or maybe what is the charity organisation you are supporting. By the same token, what are the business organisations that you would consider trustworthy or perhaps even respectable?

The intuitive answer is to consider years of service, or company existence, as a good indicator of its endurance and future success. After all, a successful organisation now is supposed to be winning in the future. Think about stock exchange valuations (P/E or price-to-earnings) that very often show long bets on the companies’ future well-being. The average ratio of S&P 500 companies is approx. 15, while firms making 25 are supposed to be well above the ordinary stock. So, how come Amazon is exceeding 100 and Tesla is approaching 200? In an insightful book “Good to Great”, Jim Collins analysed companies that made it to Fortune 500 list in a quest to identify their source of greatness. While some findings were quite common-sense and confirm the need to have a consistent strategy and formidable attention to execution, Collins found out that winning companies have “a product that drives a company’s engine and that a company is so passionate about”. Such companies are very often led by a leader that is not an outgoing extrovert, but rather a person that is humble and strong-willed. Over the years, Collins identified only 11 such companies in the analysed sample of 1400. So how can a leader create an environment that keeps developing products that we are passionate about?

Companies evolve over time and again what we observe are ever faster product cycles and increasingly volatile market conditions as well as more erratic customer behaviour. Hence it is impossible to nail down the product strategy once and for all to be resilient. I strongly believe it is a crisp and outstanding mission that makes a difference as instead of individual product a true leader creates a system. And yes, it is the business mission that binds it all.

Mission is the binding Force

First of all, a solid mission serves as a dot on the horizon, so it ensures all employees are aligned on the ultimate goal. This generates amazing efficiencies and just think about numerous steering / alignment / coordination meetings that one could do away with, if only we all keep nose to the wind and look in the same direction. Perhaps it is this fundamental alignment that made Google cease the practice of yearly appraisals as a costly and stressful practice with not that great value?

Secondly, it is also a major relief in boardroom discussions to know what our unique business justification is and the global problem we are tackling. The business paradigm that companies exist solely to generate maximum financial value to their shareholders seems to be under great pressure. And it is also a pressure within as you might clearly have seen last August. It was quite a revelation to see 188 CEOs of large companies to sign the “Statement on the Purpose of the Corporation”. Looks like top dogs finally realised we are looking for “a purpose beyond profit”. Hence, mission helps with company governance and investor relations.

Thirdly, a formidable mission statement raises engagement of employees, both existing and to-be. We all aspire to be part of something bigger and greater than our individual life and being associated with a company on a mission surely helps to go the extra mile. Nowadays companies are turning to employee engagement as one of the most important business indicators. As Richard Branson, CEO Virgin company, puts it “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients”. In case you wonder, it is also this mission that helps in the long-term battle to retain top employees and search for new talent.

The fourth argument is related to consumer behaviour. We all know how it feels to be a consumer these days with the relationship being often exclusively virtual. Instead of brick-and- mortar, we are increasingly using online capabilities and the choice is ours and hard to make. Given the great variety of options and less disposable time at our hands, as customers, we tend to choose companies that “are on the mission”. Just close your eyes and recall the recent viral campaign of consumer goods that was about purpose and future, rather than a particular product and its exact value proposition.

Be one with the Force and it will guide you

All right, so how shall we create a company mission that would prevail? The best practice here is to:

    1. make sure it is co-created in a transparent process that engages many,
    2.  it is crisp and expressed in plain English while appealing to universal values,
    3. it clearly shows the value for the employees – “what is there for me?” and
    4. it keeps a good balance between the capabilities of today and the aspirations of tomorrow.

      Not all organisations are like Elon Musk’s SpaceX with “long-term goal of making humans a multi-planet species by creating a self-sustaining city on Mars”. We could have a mission to remove small pains of everyday life or be always-on to be trusted upon. Therefore, as a last hint,
    5. business mission needs to be real and expressed by a leader that is all-in so that our six sense performs a successful integrity check.

That is what a Jedi leader does.

Stay tuned for the next episode of this saga!

Community, another Jedi virtue, will be the starting point for the next episode as we navigate through the role of the Jedi leader in the broader society.

This article was originally published by Michał Paprocki on LinkedIn.


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