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What the founder of Apple can teach franchisors about mission statements

Written by Eric Johansson on Monday, 08 August 2016. Posted in Analysis

Franchisors are well-advised to take a note out of Steve Jobs’ handbook and sharpen up their mission statements

What the founder of Apple can teach franchisors about mission statements

Steve Jobs must have been shocked upon returning to Apple in 1997; this was not the same company he’d left. What had been a tech startup devoted to elevating mankind prior to his losing an internal power struggle in 1985 had disintegrated into producing substandard computers like the highly criticised low-cost Performa series. Instead of devoting themselves to producing top-of-the-line desktops, Apple’s diversified product line – which included a range of digital cameras, speakers, TV appliances and portable CD players – was hardly making a dent in Microsoft’s profits. “Apple was doing so many things that weren’t on message, which diluted the brand value,” says Ken Segall, former creative director at TBWA\Chiat\Day, the agency behind Apple’s Think Different campaign, and author of Think Simple – How Smart Leaders Defeat Complexity.

Eager to get the company back on track, Jobs slashed the complex product line. Apple devoted itself to producing a small number of technological marvels easily counted on your fingers, instead of uncountable shoddy products. And, to keep Apple from losing its way again, Jobs presented the company with a new mission statement: “Provide relevant, compelling solutions that customers can only get from Apple.”

While the mission statement has changed since then, in 1997 it laid the foundation that enabled Apple to become the world’s most valuable company. “Jobs’ vision gave everybody a focus,” says Segall. For franchisors, the story highlights the importance of having a clear mission statement. “It’s a company’s reason for being,” he continues. “A mission statement is like guard rails; it makes it more difficult to steer off the road.”

However, a mission statement doesn’t exist in isolation: it is intimately linked to company culture and brand and is the cumulation of everything the business is. “The mission statement is a company’s DNA,” says Paul Thompson, co-founder of Water Babies, the national toddler swimming-lesson franchise. “It is everything from what it believes to who its clients are.”

Few companies highlight the intimate relationship between values and mission statements like Ben & Jerry’s, the American ice-cream manufacturer and scoop shop franchisor. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield formalised the franchise’s mission statement in 1988, based on the values and culture they’d established within the business. That meant they didn’t just stop at saying it would make delicious frozen desserts. Instead they outlined that it would be used in “innovative ways to make the world a better place”.

That phrase has guided Ben & Jerry’s to take a stance against genetically modified crops, use only Fairtrade products and minimise its carbon footprint. Additionally, the mission statement and the values drive how Ben & Jerry’s select its franchisees. “We only seek franchisees who are passionate about our mission and values, including making a positive change in the world,” says Eric Thomas, franchise development manager at Ben & Jerry’s. “We look for a commitment from our candidates to operate in a socially responsible manner, including active participation in making their communities a better place.”

Closer to home, Water Babies has taken the relationship between the mission statement and the attraction of its franchisees one step further. The franchise’s vision is to become the leading provider of world-class aquatic teaching programmes for babies, children, pregnant women and new mothers. Recognising the key role franchisees and teachers play in achieving that goal, the mission statement is almost solely devoted to finding the right talent. “The culture of us being a people business has been there from the beginning,” says Thompson. But it wasn’t until six years after the swimming school’s launch that the franchise officially formalised its mission statement. “As we grew, we realised that we needed to have it spelled out in black and white,” he continues.

Part of the reason establishing a written mission statement became so important for Water Babies was that it had begun to see a slight dip in the quality of the franchisees and teachers it was recruiting. “We took our eyes off the ball,” explains Thompson. And while having the excellence of hires drop can prove detrimental for any business, for Water Babies it could have had terrible consequences if left unchecked. “Our clients bring their most precious thing in the world into our classes, so they have to be able to trust us,” says Thompson. Bringing the wrong people on board could have seriously damaged confidence in the brand.

Highlighting how essential people are to the culture, Water Babies’ employees and franchisees all had their say on what the mission statement should be. “We didn’t just write something down and put it up on the wall,” says Thompson. “It was a group effort.” And spelling out its values in a mission statement enabled Water Babies to attract more likeminded people, which has led to the business not only making a splash in the UK but launching schools in China, as well as winning the title of bfa HSBC Franchisor of the Year 2016 in July. “It has been the root of our success,” says Thompson.

And other business leaders are advised to follow Water Babies’ example, as it looks like the mission statement will become even more important to recruiting the right staff in the future. In fact, 38% of millennials say that companies’ vision and mission statements would be the deciding factor when selecting one employer over another, according to a survey Korn Ferry Futurestep released in July.

By investing time and energy in its mission statement, Water Babies has helped defend consumer trust in its brand. And it isn’t the only company that has seen better engagement as a result of clearly defining its mission, with Ben & Jerry’s also reaping the rewards of communicating its mission inside and out. “There is no question in our minds that our mission statement and values-led business decisions create a deeper sense of loyalty with our customers,” says Rob Michalak, global director of social mission at Ben & Jerry’s. “We have data that tells us that our fans are 2.5 times more loyal to us than they are to other brands due to our mission and values.”

But if a mission statement is to attract customers, it must be clear. For instance, Apple’s mission statement devoted the company to creating elegant tools only it could produce. And if a franchise is aiming to gain that kind of clarity in a mission statement, it’s important to remember that less is often more. “The strongest mission statements are usually just a sentence or a phrase that is extremely easy to comprehend,” says Segall. “Put in too many things and people won’t remember any of them.”

However, many companies don’t get that right. One revealing example can be found in Think Simple. While Jobs was aligning Apple to the company’s new mission and slashed the product line, Dell went the other way. The company offered 53 different computers at one point, with the result that as Apple climbed to the top of the corporate world, Dell suffered continuous losses. “I don’t want to be simplistic and say that the lack of a clear mission statement is the source of all its problems but it certainly doesn’t help,” says Segall.
A clear mission statement enabled Jobs to turn Apple into a tech giant, Thompson to set up franchises in China and Ben & Jerry’s to be a force for good. But, most importantly, it can offer your franchise something to navigate by. “Without it, you’re just working at a place that does stuff,” concludes Segall.

About the Author

Eric Johansson

As feature writer and resident Viking, Eric ensures EF is filled with engaging and eclectic entrepreneurial stories. While one of our freshest faces, he has sharpened his editorial teeth by writing about business, entertainment and fitness.

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