More than 5 million new business applications were filed in 2022, continuing an upsurge in entrepreneurship. But how many of those companies will survive and thrive? History shows that 30 percent of small businesses fail in their second year, and about half are gone after five. And out of all of those startups that opened in the past year, how many employees are fully engaged in their company and in every aspect of their job? How many will lose interest and move on? Those factors have a lot to do with a new business’ success or failure. And recent data on employee engagement worldwide isn’t promising; a Gallup poll revealed that a startling 85% of employees are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work.
If you’re a small business owner, that statistic is scary.
How can you create employee engagement and help them sustain it in order to grow your business? It starts with what I call the three pillars, and it’s about streamlining your mission statement to help get your employees fully invested in their roles. The three pillars start with you, the small business owner, but the real magic happens when you get your employees to buy into them as well. When your staff fully understands your three pillars, what they’re doing and why, that’s when you can create a special experience for your customer that will make them loyal to your company.
Words with substance
The three pillars are three words that you believe represent your brand. It’s your mission statement boiled down. Your employees have to feel the three pillars, know them, and embody them in order to do their jobs well, reflect the company’s image, and connect with customers in ways that give them a great, memorable experience.
The origin of the three pillars came from my frustration with my employees because they couldn’t tell me our mission statement. I had created one that was a few sentences long – too long to remember, as it turned out. Some people had worked for me for years and still couldn’t recite the mission statement. I have found this to be true at every business I’ve been to. I often ask the owners if they can recite their mission statements and 75 percent usually can’t. And almost 99 percent of employees can’t recite it at all. What good is it if your employees don’t know what your brand stands for?
I sat down to think through the problem of my employees not knowing the mission statement, and what came out of me was a tool that has been nothing short of amazing for my business and for hundreds of others that I have worked with. It streamlined my vision and every process in my brand. And best of all, it’s easy for my team members to remember, and it gave them a clear vision, too.
The three pillars will become the foundation of every aspect in your brand. They will help you define your training programs, how you hire, how you delegate, and how you develop focused marketing campaigns. The three pillars will develop the founder’s or CEO’s vision and make sure it resonates with the customer.
Constructing the pillars: Define your brand
What is your brand? It’s okay if you don’t have any idea yet. Here’s a helpful exercise. Write down three words that you believe represent your brand. What does your brand stand for? What are you known for? What do your customers perceive? What do your employees think of the brand? Brainstorm and write down three words. Then, underneath each word, write 10 more words that mean approximately the same thing.
The purpose of this exercise is to help define why you’re doing what you’re doing. Sometimes it can take weeks or months to land on exactly the right words. You might struggle with it for a long time and then eventually have an epiphany. Stick with it. You’re building the foundation here, and remember, this will affect absolutely everything in your business and help take you to the next level.
This process is also helpful because the more specific you can be, the better. These words will become the message you’re projecting to the world and will attract the kinds of customers and employees you want to work with. This is how we create experiences every day. A big part of this process is helping you form your customer avatar – an industry-specific term that means your ideal customer, the type of person you want to purchase your products or services. As you do this deep dive into your brand and think about the experience you want to create, also think about who you’re serving.
Survey your customers and employees
A good way to spark more ideas and to get feedback on what your brand stands for is to ask your customers. One of the most helpful things to do is ask them what words come to mind when they think of your business. It can be scary and nerve-wracking to open yourself up to this kind of assessment. It makes you feel vulnerable. But that insight into your customer’s mind is gold. Even if you’ve never consciously thought about what your brand stands for, it does stand for something. When you create a business, you create a brand, whether you do it on purpose or not. This is the point here: to do it on purpose.
What does your business really stand for? Have you ever stopped to think about it? So many of my coaching clients have never done this simple exercise and believe that their business just stands for “being good at X.” But your employees and customers need to understand your vision and mission. The three pillars will help you articulate your mindset, develop a clear mission statement, engage your employees and enthuse your customers.
If you think you’ve nailed your three pillars, here’s the real test: Go ask your employees what they think they are. That’s a real gut check. If you think your business is all about integrity, but that word (or one like it) never comes up when you ask your employees, something is off and you need to figure out where. They will truly reflect back to you what your business is all about. It can either be enlightening and teach you something valuable about your business that you want to keep doing, or it might show you a misalignment in your vision and the experience that is actually being created for the customer. Be open to hearing this feedback, even if it’s hard, as you may need to recalibrate your marketing or training.
Your staff cannot execute on your vision and mission if you aren’t teaching them what the company stands for and the why behind everything they do. If you’re still stuck on what your three pillars are, keep asking your employees and customers until you nail it. When you feel you have nailed your three pillars, your marketing will produce your results, your employees will have confidence to execute, and you will create amazing customer experiences.
Tony DiSilvestro is the Forbes Books author of The Business Scaling Blueprint: Building a Foundation to Grow Your Brand. He has founded over 31 businesses and employs over 450 people. He is an award-winning entrepreneur, renowned international business and leadership trainer, and profitable real estate investor. He is also part of the Virginia Beach Vision Board, which involves the top 125 business owners in the area. DiSilvestro is the founder of Ynot Enterprises, and his background includes work experience in manufacturing, consulting, a SaaS training company, and residential and commercial construction. Distinction Magazine named him Entrepreneur of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @DisilvestroTony