Every business is up to something. Whether you sell medical supplies or create new technologies, you are out to make a difference for the people and industries you serve. You have a mission – and that mission will be more fully realized only when it becomes imbued in your daily operations and communications. Whatever your mission is, you must become a Chief Evangelizing Officer.
The Wylde Center is an environmental education organization with a mission to cultivate green spaces and inspire communities of environmental stewards. There’s no one better to talk about mission than non-profits, and this week Stephanie Van Parys (Executive Director) and Joy Provost (former Board Chair) of the Wylde Center share the ways that they make their mission real for their team and the communities they serve.
It All Starts with Your Team
Van Parys has a full staff, as well as a board, and she approaches both slightly differently. The board is her “go to” for planning and ideas, and her staff is the team that gets things done. This relationship might be slightly different for those of you in a for-profit company, but what can carry over is having a small, core group that helps you build and share your vision.
Maintaining a strong, open relationship with this core group is vital. Yeah, I know we say this a lot on CEO Exclusive, but it can’t be stressed enough. Van Parys credits the insightful questions asked by her board as a source of thought and inspiration as she continues to develop the organizational strategy and mission. She explains, “We have very talented people on the board who ask very hard questions. So, when I have these big ideas, they start drilling in with questions…they’re great questions, and so they really make me think, is this feasible, is this a good financial decision?”
It is also important to be sure that your vision is alive and well with everyone on your team, but doing that can be tricky. There is a clear correlation between employee engagement and their personal connection to the company vision. This article covers multiple ways in which to help your team experience your vision, including making sure that the vision is inspiring, ensuing that employees feel valued and taken care of, the vision is being communicated in a variety of ways, and honesty of the leadership.
Having your mission be alive and well with your team helps the team evangelize the message throughout the community. For Van Parys, that means walking the talk, and encouraging the same in her staff. She has been a long time pioneer and evangelist for environmentally conscious living, and sets an example for her team and community. She has her own garden, keeps chickens, and showed up at the grocery store with her own cloth bag long before it was cool. Whatever your mission is, find ways to have that same commitment show up in your every day life. Teams are inspired by their leaders.
Share your message with the world. We talked above about inspiring your team, and finding multiple outlets for the communication for your message. Van Parys is an expert in both of these areas. Says Provost, “She does a great job of recognizing what people are interested in, and always talking about the mission. She empowers her employees for the garden and the board to do the same. So, really, it’s not just Stephanie. She makes the whole organization live by the mission.”
Schools are central to the Wylde Center’s strategy and communication plan. Reaching the students at an early age helps to create life-long evangelists of the Wylde Center mission. The Wylde team reaches out to communities as well. With an awareness of the increased interest in green living, the Wylde Center offers programs that will help develop and expand this growing concern for caring for the world around us. They offer gardens and green spaces for the public to enjoy, as well as seed exchanges and educational programs on gardening and nutrition.
Even fundraising events help sell the mission. Says Van Parys, “The Wylde Center also hosts a ton of very, very fun fundraising events that are very popular and sell out. You often get people there who’ve never heard of the Wylde Center and that gives us a chance to really sell the mission to them as well.” In a for-profit business, spreading the message might include thought leadership activities, personal branding of executives, effective web content, and marketing activities.
Vision and Strategy Go Hand in Hand
Vision is at the heart of success, but strategy is where the rubber meets the road. We’ve already talked about building a core team to help you build the vision, and that team is a great place to strategize as well. Strategy takes your great ideas and makes them real.
Van Parys and Provost meet at the beginning of each year to create a list of accomplishments they want to see that year. Van Parys says that at these meetings, they ask themselves, “Where do we want to get to by the end of the year? What are our three main goals for the year, and how are we going to get there? How are we going to share this with the board, and get them behind it, and get their creative ideas to be part of it?” These questions, she says, are what has brought the organization success.
In their planning, they use a lot of spreadsheets (I love spreadsheets.) They look at each part of the organization and lay out goals in each area. They revisit the goals and progress made at their monthly board meeting, and work on tactics to take the next steps.
The CEO Exclusive team recently did a survey of mid-market CEOs, and one of the things we discovered is that while most of you are extremely interested in your short-term strategy (around 3 months out), very few of you think regularly about a long term strategy. As a strategist, one of my main evangelizing points is the value of a longer-term plan. With the Wylde Center team, I’d be preaching to the choir. Their plan looks 3-6 years into the future, and is revised regularly. There’s a saying, “Man plans and God laughs.” Planning out for the longer term is likely to need some adjustments, yes, but it still offers an incredible road map for how to target your resources, and adjust your income needs, staffing plans, etc. If you’re only looking 3 months out, there are some big pieces of the puzzle you’re going to miss.
What it comes down to is having a clearly articulated vision, communicating it to the world, and creating actionable, realistic steps to bring that vision into reality. Easy, right? Not always, but the Wylde Center is a great example to follow. They are about to celebrate their 20 year anniversary, and are opening a new location soon. For Van Parys and Provost, it’s a combination of passion, vision, and down-to-earth strategy that helps them keep their vision alive in their team and in the communities they serve.