The principle of elevation creates a new breed of engaged agents on all levels of an organization. There are strong and clear signals of a company with high value that cannot be captured on paper. The customer who keeps coming back and intuitively serves as a brand evangelist to their social circles. The employee who feels not only proud and engaged in their work, but excitedly talks about the work of the organization and its impact to all who will listen. The shareholder who draws in other investors because their sense of a return on investment goes well beyond their dividends. These are situations that come not by an organization having a mission statement, but by organizations that embody a mission that individually and collectively elevates stakeholders.
The virtuous organization mission is not just any mission: it empowers people to choose and express their values and to choose and live their best lives. Key characteristics of a virtuous mission include:
A shared purpose for stakeholders to connect to
Clear communication of vision and values
An acceptance of values plurality and the resulting tension
When a virtuous organization determines its mission with these concepts in mind, its stakeholders will be empowered to pursue and live their individual values. By creating space for this expression of values, a virtuous organization will elevate society.
A virtuous mission creates shared purpose. The clarity of the mission and vision draw stakeholders, and once connected, there is little else that can create stability, sustainability, and profitability like this values-driven loyalty. This type of connection comes only as the individual and the organization fuse on a shared deep purpose, which typically calls out the deepest of human and social potential.
Indeed, the mission of an organization can elevate individuals to identify, articulate, and exercise their values in a way otherwise far too difficult to accomplish independently. Connection to a business mission can actually inform and expand individuals in how to exercise their own values, drawing together people into powerful communities with the power to change the world.
A virtuous mission clearly communicates the organization’s vision and values. Anyone who has written or read a mission statement knows that the words themselves are rarely a transcendent experience. Clarity in these organizational statements is important, but the critical work rests with the organization to reify their vision, mission, and values through action. This is not easy work. If the mission is permeating the work of the organization, the elevating impact can be felt on everything from employee recruitment and engagement, to organizational strategy and culture, from community and social impact to customer and shareholder interest.
Because mission permeation is critical to improving organizational success, productivity, and performance, it is a high-worth practice to regularly review and revise (if necessary) the mission statement to best align to the deep purpose of the organization.
A virtuous mission accepts the tension of values plurality. Values can be a loaded word. Talk of shared values can quickly decline into a moralistic debate. A virtuous organization, however, realizes that a marketplace of values with transparency and differentiation allows for people to robustly choose when and how to engage with organizations in pursuing their own values. This marketplace acknowledges values plurality, or the idea that there are several values which may be equally correct and fundamental while being in conflict with each other. For example, consider the tension between efficiency and effectiveness, quality and quantity, justice and mercy. This tension creates a space where different values can complement each other and allows people to thrive because they are able to choose and explore their own values. This is, in itself, elevating.
Embracing value plurality does not mean virtuous organizations are open to total moral relativism and harmful ideologies. If an organization is subjugating any part of humanity, that practice is based on a value that is extreme, corrupt, and ultimately cannot be sustained. Otherwise, there is very little use in arbitrating between values. One person may hold a value just for that value’s direct worth, where another may regard that same value as important for the instrumental impact it has on another value that individual regards as more worthy of resources. For example, one person may have environmental preservation as a value just based on a love of nature. Another may share that same value, but based on understanding that environmental preservation is critical to human health and wellness, a value they hold in higher priority.
A virtuous mission elevates society. This elevation through empowering agency is a pursuit of the virtuous organization. The effect of this conscious effort to develop and communicate an elevating purpose and mission reaches all stakeholders – especially employees and customers. Take the example of Cotopaxi, a Utah-based outdoor gear company. In Utah, it is difficult to go a day without seeing the slogan “DO GOOD” splashed across the back window of a car, the waterbottle of a coworker, or the laptop or backpack of a fellow student. This phrase is pulled from Cotopaxi’s mission statement, which reads, “We create innovative outdoor products and experiences that fund sustainable poverty alleviation, move people to do good, and inspire adventure.”
Customers are drawn to Cotopaxi products because they inspire adventure. Their signature backpacks are always ready to be put to work on a cross country road trip or hauling around rock climbing gear, even though they are also commonly used for school gear. Hopeful employees flock to apply for job openings because it’s not just a job, it’s a job where they are collectively working to alleviate poverty. Employees get to say, essentially, “I’m doing that,” as they talk to others about their day to day, which may actually be in a retail store. Both employees and customers receive a language and action for a value they may have never known how to activate. Investors get to innovate and be in the lead of a good idea. Supply chain partners get exposed to how these practices might work for them and how it might look to commit to similar practices. To take away any part of the mission statement is to strip away value that comes as individuals and groups—the stakeholders—are empowered to articulate and activate their own values. As a result, all are elevated for their individual and collective gain.