Russ Levanway, CEO, Tektegrity

Until last year, TekTegrity’s mission was “To provide premium information technology services through relationships of the highest quality and integrity with our clients.” How many of our staff knew this mission by heart? Maybe half. And how much did it resonate with them? Probably not too well.

Like individuals, companies can fall into ruts. They can sink into day-to-day operations without ever addressing the purpose or meaning behind what they do. So last year, we embarked on a process to redefine our mission and vision as a company from the angle of why versus what or how.

The seeds for this process were planted when I attended a conference where author and leadership expert, Simon Sinek, spoke. At the time, TekTegrity was caught up in business-as-usual: fixing computers and providing technical support. I’m willing to bet most people here didn’t feel a higher calling or a sense of real purpose in their work. But after Sinek’s talk, I picked up his book, Start With Why, and got the message: people find meaning and purpose in their work through the why.

The why brings a company’s true reason for being into focus. Fixing computers is what we do, but why we do it is far more important; we enhance productivity for our clients to enrich their lives. If a client’s computer system and environment is up, available, and stable, they can accomplish more, improve their home-work balance, and enjoy more of life outside the office. If their systems are down or sluggish, all of that productivity and work-home balance comes to a screeching halt. When our staff saw their connection to clients’ well-being, their perceptions changed. No longer was a job just a job – each work order became an opportunity to touch someone’s life. So our new mission became, simply, “Productivity enhanced, lives enriched.”

Writing these four words – getting to our why – was an eight-month process. Start With Why became required reading for our leadership team and the nine department heads. After completing the book, each wrote their own statement for why TekTegrity should exist. Next, we held a full-day retreat led by a facilitator wherein we combined our ideas and hashed them out together with the end goal of developing a company-wide statement. And lastly, we rolled the statement out collectively across the company and welcomed feedback, questions, and concerns about how well the why statement resonated. All of that spanned January through August – a long time because you can’t do this kind of deep work overnight. It is an investment in the health and maintenance of your company.

One of the greatest challenges of the process was asking the hard question of ourselves as a company: Are we actually living out the mission? Without a through-line between mission and daily operations, the work becomes meaningless and disconnected from reality. In most areas, I’m happy to say we were indeed living out our mission. In others, we decided to make changes in our on-the-ground operations to serve the mission more directly.

Almost a year later, I can ask anyone in the company what our mission is and they know it right off the bat. Every six months we do an employee satisfaction survey and one question is “Do I find my work meaningful?” (Which is different than “Am I happy with my supervisor?” or some such operational question.) The vast majority of our staff say they find the work meaningful, which is important to me. Personally, I believe that if you’re going to spend a third of your life working, you had better well find meaning there!

We also launched a Culture Committee to bring the culture of TekTegrity into better alignment with our core values of Trust, Tenacity, Growth and Camaraderie. Members of the Culture Committee are required to read Start With Why as well, and are charged with asking, Now that we have a revised mission statement, what are we doing culturally to make sure we’re living it out? The Culture Committee doesn’t include department heads; it’s staff who can make the mission real for the company at every level. They’ve done everything from designing events around our core values to making one core value a theme in all of our company-wide communications for each quarter.

If you’ve never taken on an exercise like this, I highly encourage it. You’d be surprised how connected you and your staff can become to the why of your company or organization if you take the time to identify it.