Clarity of Purpose

by 01 Nov 2011

"To excel in the _______ category, by delivering outstanding value and innovation, with a passion for service, as an employer of choice."

Most mission statements seem interchangeable. We can print them on as many posters as we like and they won't change the way anyone does their jobs. People need to know what they're trying to achieve and they need to understand how they can contribute personally. They need clarity of purpose.

A few years ago, I was working with a group of boutique hotels in the US. As they prepared for expansion, we were identifying the core elements of their customer experience, to make sure any new properties would deliver on the same brand promise. In guest interviews at one of their flagship properties in Miami's South Beach, the concierge was mentioned again and again. So I arranged to spend an afternoon with him. 

The concierge's name was Rio. He was very tall, very handsome and very extrovert - greeting almost everyone as they came through the lobby. Within a few minutes, I saw him call out to a man in his late forties, who had come in and was heading straight for the lifts. 

"Hi John, how was Nobu for dinner last night?" 

The man looked over, startled and visibly embarrassed. He slowed his pace but was reluctant to stop. On many levels, he looked a little out of place in that designer lobby, filled with models and media-types.

Instead of sensing John's awkwardness and letting it go, Rio pressed further: "Did you check out N.B. after dinner?"

N.B was a nightclub further down the beach, nose-bleed-trendy in a post-millennium Studio-54 kind of way. Wherever John went last night, it wasn't there. And now, under the increasingly curious gaze of the beautiful people in that lobby, he literally shrank: his head lowered, his shoulders rounded inward, as if he could make himself disappear.

I desperately tried to think of a way to rescue him. But Rio laughed out loud, as if he and John had shared a private joke, as if they were old partners in crime: "Can't talk about it here? I hear you. My bad!  I'll have to get all the gory details from you later!"

Suddenly it seemed possible that John had not only been to that fashionable club, but that he and his impossibly cool friends had gone on from there to a night so wild that it could hardly be discussed in public. That in fact John had discovered new spots in the South Beach social scene - places so white-hot that Rio was counting on him for the latest updates.

John unfolded himself and smiled, his shoulders went back and his chin came up. With a casual gesture in Rio's direction, he sauntered out of the lobby.

Later that afternoon, in a quiet moment, I asked Rio what he thought his job was. He didn't check the staff kitchen for a mission statement poster. He also didn't mention reservations or contacts or knowing the cool spots. Those were the tools of his trade, not his purpose. 

He said his job was "to make our guests feel like rock-stars." 

That kind of purpose is one that any team member can understand, act on and transmit to new staff as they join the team. And clarity like that leads to an extraordinary customer experience for which, in this case at least, people will pay several thousand dollars a night. 

About the author

 Kate Messenger is Director of Meme Partners