Tom Dailey shrank the company mission statement to better engage employees Featured

8:01pm EDT March 31, 2012
 Tom Dailey shrank the company mission statement to better engage employees

Tom Dailey had been CEO at Inc. only a short time when he realized the company, no longer in start-up phase, was settling down and becoming larger ? and it needed to join the big leagues where formal accounting and strategic planning were mandatory.

“The company’s performance was flattening out, quite frankly,” he says. “We were having some challenges with revenues and expense management.

“Sometimes that is an awkward period in companies’ developments because they are moving from an environment where decisions were made quickly and things weren’t very well-documented. You could sort of do things on the fly and go forth into an environment that is more formalized because you are getting bigger and more money is passing through your hands. At times, that’s a little bit of a challenge for various companies, and that’s definitely where we were.”

Previously, Dailey was in charge of a large organization of more than 2,000 people with a large call center ? and knew the challenges involved in changing a company’s processes.

Working through the challenges took a vision, and more importantly, connecting with employees so they know that they play a part in making the vision a reality.

Adding to the situation was that 2 employees just didn’t feel like management was communicating enough with them.

“Today, it’s not enough to articulate the vision and ask people to follow,” Dailey says. “People have to understand why a company is going in a certain direction and more importantly, people want to understand what role they play in the big picture of achieving a vision. It’s not just enough to say, ‘March this way.’ You have to say, ‘March this way; here’s why we’re going this way, and here’s the key role you play.’

“So one of the things that I think is you cannot over communicate to people; it’s literally impossible to over communicate,” he says.

So Dailey reached into his CEO bag and pulled out some tools that helped the company achieve 20 percent growth per year to reach $325 million in revenue.

Here’s how he led the Internet payment processing company to become a stronger company in a tough economic environment using a clear mission statement, effective communication techniques and by encouraging the workforce to take on the mission.

Clarify your mission first

In order to lead people, you have to communicate constantly. Many business executives are proponents of the principle that the best way to motivate employees is to communicate with them, and Dailey was one of them. The first step he took was to work on the message to communicate.

“Nearly three years ago when I joined the company, we had this very verbose, long paragraph of a mission statement that had been developed by committee. It included every buzzword that you could imagine and was posted on every conference room wall,”

Dailey says. “If I walked around the building and asked anybody without looking at a sign to tell me what the mission statement is, very few individuals in the company would have been able to answer correctly. Even if they could have, it wasn’t really meaningful. It was just the buzzword mission statement.”

In other words, it was full of clichés like “think out of the box,” “maximize employee engagement” and “to drive value-added processes in a profit-maximizing system.”

Dailey would have no part of it, and wanted to reduce the mission statement into a single line.

To do so involves taking the simplest definition of your company’s purpose and formulating it so that it can be remembered and applied. It may take some time, and in Dailey’s case, his team worked on it close to a year.

“We wanted to make sure we got it right. We kept coming up with different iterations of it,” he says. “Finally, we had a moment of clarity that said, ‘Let’s get rid of all these. Let’s get rid of every word in the mission statement that isn’t core to what we do.’

“That’s when we ended up going from a mission statement that was some nebulous paragraph down to a mission statement that was one sentence.”

Getting to the point where clarity is achieved often crystallizes everyone around the mission.

“We are an Internet payment processing company, so our new mission statement says, ‘We help sellers sell more.’ And that’s it,” Dailey says. “That’s our whole mission statement. Just the mere fact of us clarifying that, and articulating it to everyone, I can tell you that everybody in this company can recite our mission statement now.”

The clarity of such a simple statement makes it easy to remember and easy to apply against any improvement, revision or project to see if it is in line with the mission statement.

“When we did our recent budgeting and planning process, the mission statement was our litmus test for everything we did ? every expense, every project, every strategy,” Dailey says. “We threw them up against that mission statement and asked, ‘Does that help us get closer to helping sellers sell more?’”

Little by little, the test separated the items that would support the mission statement from those that didn’t ? a method that was another of Dailey’s principles.

“I don’t think progress is always achieving big things; a lot of small wins along the way can move you forward as well,” he says.

Use multiple delivery methods

When you get in a room together with your employees and everybody understands the vision and has a stake in the game, you get much more passionate discussion among people about what you are trying to do, because they suddenly want to do things in the most efficient way.

To obtain that understanding requires communicating effectively ? and that may mean using several delivery methods.

“One of the things I’ve learned over time is that not everybody responds to communication in the same way,” Dailey says. “Not everybody learns the same way, and not everybody processes data the same way. Some people you can send them an e-mail and they will go off, read that on their own, digest the data and that will be meaningful for them. Other people need to see it graphically. Still other people are going to respond much better to a meeting or an individual conversation.”

To reach the largest number of employees, you should employ a number of media. You may want to institute all-employee meetings, e-mail communication and an internal newsletter that pops up every morning when an employee logs on to his or her computer that includes snippets of what’s going on during the day. You can’t just use one channel, because one channel is not going to be meaningful to every individual.

“That was a tricky lesson for me because we tend to think that what works for me is going to work for others,” Dailey says. “I’ve learned over the years that it’s not true. There are a lot of different ways of thinking and processing data. You’ve got to understand that if you are going to try to get through to everybody, you’re going to have to employ a number of different methods.”

The next steps involve the attempts to carry out the vision and monitor the progress.

One of the ways you’ll know if you have been successful with your message is when everyone in the company can articulate the vision.

“You can do some fun things where you walk around the building, and just ask somebody randomly, ‘Hey, what’s the mission statement?’ If they answer correctly, you can give them a gift card or something like that,” Dailey says. “When people understand the vision, when they are engaged in it, then you know you’ve really gotten through to them.”

Be aware, however, that there’s a difference between inspiring people to achieve the vision and intimidating them to do so.

“You can lead by intimidation or you can lead by inspiration,” he says. “I find that over the long run, inspiration is far more effective than intimidation.

That gets back to the whole buy-in for the vision.

“I think you have to empower your employees to achieve the vision,” Dailey says. “So many companies are scared to empower the employees who actually deliver on the promise to the customers, because they are afraid the employee could do something wrong.

“You may embrace that ? part of empowering people to satisfy customers is that occasionally somebody will do something that might be different from what you would otherwise have thought it would be. But along the way, you are going to have satisfied more customers than you might have otherwise done.”

Keep the momentum going

If you want to satisfy customers and stay true to your mission statement, you have to keep your communication avenues to employees capable of growth and revision. Once you have spent a lot of time and effort to clarify your mission statement and your employees begin to embrace it, you need to exert the same effort to make sure it thrives in your company. That means introducing new avenues to reach new levels of engagement.

“The people who are closest to the processes are typically the ones who are best equipped to tell us better ways of doing things,” Dailey says. “So make it a safe environment for people to understand that you welcome input and that you don’t necessarily consider yourself to have all the answers. Create venues, whether they are the round-table type of thing or a suggestion program.

“That’s all just part of empowering people to help make improvements in the company. It will make your job easier because, you know what? You don’t have all the answers. Welcome other people’s ideas. People come up with great ideas.”

A round-table meeting is an opportune time to solicit some off-the-wall suggestions. Ask

employees if they had a magic wand and could change one thing about the business ? anything ? what would that one thing be?

“You will be amazed at the input that you will get back,” Dailey says. “Sometimes there are really good ideas and sometimes there are only very small things. But I think people appreciate the opportunity to participate in that way.

“Once, I came in on the third shift and one of the employees said, ‘I really wish the second shift would not leave dirty dishes in the break room sink, because I feel like I have to clean them.’ That was a small thing in the grand scheme of things but it was a big matter to that person, because she felt she had to clean up the break room because of the second shift. It was a very easy thing to fix. It’s not always the big stuff that causes people to be more satisfied.

“If you can eliminate some small hassle in a person’s life, sometimes that goes a longer way than something you might perceive is a bigger deal.”

While this method is sort of an informal one for employees to make suggestions, you should also offer a formal method.

Employees can submit a written suggestion, and it could go to an innovation committee that reviews it and then decides whether or not it can be implemented. However, you have to have an established feedback loop because people don’t want to feel like their suggestion went into a black hole.

“You have to come back to them and say, ‘You know what, we looked at your suggestion and we’re going to adopt it,’ or, ‘We looked at your suggestion, and we considered it but we can’t adopt it for the following reasons …’

“So the people will at least understand it got a fair review,” Dailey says. “With respect to walking the talk, if you ask people for their input, and they give it to you and they see that nothing happens to it, you would have been better off not asking for it in the first place as they will perceive you as just giving lip service.”

You should plan to solicit suggestions from the broadest range possible of employees.

“When people know that their opinion counts, they get much more engaged in the business,” Dailey says. “Along those same lines, if you really want to understand how you can improve your processes, don’t talk to the managers. Talk to the person who does the process. More often than not, if you give them the opportunity, those people are going to have a lot of answers about how to improve your business.”

How to reach: Inc., (614) 921-2450 or

The Dailey File

Born: Chillicothe, Ohio. After college, I spent about 25 years in Chicago working there, and then I came back and took this opportunity.

Education: The Ohio State University. I studied social and behavioral sciences. I didn’t end up being a therapist. Sometimes people talk to me about, well, did that have any relevance to business? I think so; some behavioral sciences have a lot of things to do with business.

What was your first job?

My very first job was a paper route. It was interesting because back then, the carrier also had to do the collection. So I had to go to all 96 of those people every week and collect the money, then fill out the receipts for the customers, then remit the money balance and reconcile the money. You talk about empowerment ? I was a 13- or 14-year-old kid and was basically doing collections, reconciliations and remittances and so forth. That taught me a lot about responsibility. You are really running a business, and that’s probably what got me interested in business in the first place. It probably improved my social skills, my responsibility and everything else. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. I thought it was great.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

Don’t assume you are the smartest person in the room. Somebody I consider a great mentor of mine once told me that, and I have never forgotten it. He was my boss and mentor fairly early in my career who was constantly saying that phrase and advising me not to let my position go to my head. I’ve always tried to live by that, and it always really served me well.

Whom do you admire most in business?

Probably Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric. Here’s a guy who has intensively focused on goals and mission and has a fantastic track record of achieving them. I’m a little bit of a Jack Welch disciple.What is your definition of business success?

What's your definition of business success?

If we leave the company each day in a little better shape than it was when we got there that morning, to me that’s success.