Posted by Brandon Copeland
Last month I went through an exercise to try to redefine exactly what I was trying to accomplish with Urban East. I’m approaching my one-year mark for full-time operations, and it was time to do a mission audit. I worked with Anna Smith with Free Form Events, and had a fantastic session diving into what specifically I hoped to accomplish with Urban East. It’s interesting, as most of my goals tied into my own philosophy on my industry.
It was a very helpful session, and I followed it up with my trip to Toronto which I referenced in my last article. I had been struggling to relay in an articulate way exactly what I do with Urban East. What Anna and I quickly realized, is that as much as I am providing a service I am also advocating a vision. When talking about that vision, it was clear that it linked directly to what I felt was my company’s mission.
Mission is more and more important for businesses, and from a community-building perspective I think mission helps to identify what an organization can do to strengthen the community it is investing in. I’ve spent a lot of March and April thinking about mission, and I want to share some of those thoughts today.
What is my Mission?
When working with Anna, and thinking about Urban East, I talked a lot about the importance of strong neighbourhoods. I talked a lot about how better neighbourhoods lead to better investment opportunity. I talked a lot about how declining neighbourhoods are self-fulfilling, through the curse of vacant buildings. I talked a lot about how building something isn’t enough, and increasing value for a property investor comes from active neighbourhood engagement. By the end of the session, we had very clearly and concisely identified that Urban East exists to partner in the development of complete neighbourhoods.
This was a huge step in the right direction for me. For one, articulating what I was trying to do has been difficult. Describing where business and real estate intersects hasn’t been easy – and by having a concise, repeatable mission statement it allows people to hear my explanation and delve further only if they feel so inclined.
Aside from clear communication and ease of marketing, my mission helps me justify accepting or declining work. If an opportunity can clearly be identified as something that contributes to my mission, even if the role I’m taking is not one I would traditionally take, then I can justify to myself why I might take on the opportunity. Alternatively, if something doesn’t pass the “mission test” then it is much easier to say no to. Lastly, there exists a third type of opportunity – one that does not inherently contribute to my mission, but provides me with an experience or connection or skill that can contribute to my mission in the future. This third type may be harder to identify, but it is also very relevant.
I think that every business worth pursuing has a mission that is more than just “make money.” Putting that mission into clear words can assist entrepreneurs in keeping their eye on the long-term prize.
Clients Seek Out Missions
The idea of the conscious consumer is very much a thing in our world today. People who are purchasing product, or working with professionals, do more research than ever before. Many also want to support people and businesses with similar views. For this reason, having a clearly defined (and easily understandable) mission for your business has value in developing brand awareness and building consumer interest and loyalty.
B-Corporations are also on the rise. B-Corporations are essentially for-profit social enterprises. One a business has reached a point where it can demonstrate its social or environmental impact, it amends its corporate charter to incorporate the interests of all stakeholders into the fiduciary duties of all company leaders. B Labs (the not-for-profit that oversees certification) has been identifying B-Corps since 2007. As of this 2017 HBR article there were 1700 around the world. B-Corp certification allows a company to exclaim that it looks for value outside of the bottom-line, and consumers are taking notice.
What I love about B-Corps is that they are for-profit. The idea that an organization has to either for-profit, or for-cause is changing – and that’s a good thing! Corporate missions help to identify the cause, and profit helps to enact said cause. A company can, and should, be both. Identifying your company mission assists you in putting a finger on your company’s social identity.
A Business With Personality
The idea of a business’ identity seems silly if we think of corporations as nothing more than a name registered on a piece of paper so that we can file taxes. However, when I think of community, I think of businesses as important actors in the same way that I think of people as important actors. In the same way that residents learn about the personalities of their neighbours, members should also learn about the personalities of local businesses. In fact, I might go so far as to argue that a business is more likely to succeed if locals can relate to it on a somewhat human level.
A mission statement can help you identify exactly what your business’ personality is. Further, it can help you identify how you fit into your neighbourhood. Are their things that your business can do in order to increase its neighbourhood presence while still being true to its mission? Whatever the situation, ensuring that the characteristics of a neighbourhood match the mission of the business can be an early indicator as to whether or not your business is best served in its current physical place.
Working through my mission statement helped me think about my business more as a living, breathing entity. It also helped me hone in on the direction my business is going, and how I intend to help it get there. If you aren’t sure about your business or project’s mission, perhaps you should identify it sooner rather than later so that the rest of us can begin to get to know the organization.