Mission Drift and Mission True

Greatness is not in where we stand, but in what direction we are moving. We must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it – but sail we must and not drift, nor lie at anchor. – Oliver Wendell Holmes

In 1852, Henry Wells and Williams Fargo founded Wells Fargo. What once was a legendary part of the American West as a stagecoach company, has become one of the most well-known financial institutions of today, largely because they’ve remained true to their core vision and values. While the company has certainly evolved from its humble beginnings, it hasn’t wavered in its focus.

This example is shared and discussed in Peter Greer and Chris Horst’s book Mission Drift, which focuses on the importance of staying “mission true” – from core values to staff to customers to business plan – and shares examples of organizations (ranging from large to small) that have thrived (and stumbled) through the years.

I sit on the board of the local Social Enterprise Alliance chapter here in Nashville and, last week, we talked about this idea as it relates to the nonprofit/social enterprise world. “Do we accept investment dollars/funding/support from those who may not align with our core vision and purpose?”

One person responded:

“It isn’t church if you don’t invite the sinners.”

This concept of mission drift and remaining “mission true” isn’t unique to any one industry. From Wells Fargo to your local nonprofit to what we do here at Proof, we’re all constantly met with opportunities to waver and/or evolve from where we are in pursuit of where we want to be.

Should you take on that one client whose offer is double what you normally receive but whose product idea seems absolutely insane and sure to fail? Do you accept a big check from a big business who may have questionable ethics in your pursuit of funding and investment? Do you turn down a three billion dollar buyout from Facebook because you don’t want to work for Mark Zuckerberg? (I’m looking at you, Snapchat)

The answer is rarely a simple “yes” or “no”, but must always come back to your core mission and purpose.

In Mission Drift, Wells Fargo is used as an exemplar of remaining “mission true”. Nearly every stagecoach company went out of business with the arrival of trains. Trains were faster and more convenient, yet Wells Fargo’s mission and purpose remained focused on the quality protection and transportation of customers’ valuables. The rounded wood body of the Concord stagecoach rested on a unique suspension system that provided a stable, secure ride.

Though they were not the cheapest, fastest, or most convenient, they were steadfast in their mission of being the best.

As a brand, your mission is at the core of everything you do. In our work with clients, we call this your “Brand Declaration”. It’s realized in your core values, messaging and copy, design and aesthetic, and in the products/services you sell.

You’ve likely seen the Wells Fargo tagline, “Together we’ll go far”. After over 150 years, the company remains “mission true”. Imagine your company/organization 150 years from now. How will you stay true to your mission? What will your legacy be?

“We must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it – but sail we must and not drift, nor lie at anchor.”

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