A 90 Year Old Company Shows Us How to Achieve Business Greatness

The importance of a clear Mission/Purpose is not readily understood by the average entrepreneur. Most are driven by the desire to share their particular talent with customers. This is the basis of their business building. Of course, the product or service must be there before considering the building of a business anyway.

Owners of businesses that prevail know they should define parameters for their operations to keep it going the way they intended. A Mission/Purpose is the first large parameter that must be defined. Great founders carefully design a Mission/Purpose to include a broad definition of why the company was formed. It must be broad to allow for the changing environment and it’s effect on how the product/service will be delivered.

Delta air lines’ Mission and Values offer excellent examples of how broad descriptions can build a legacy.

Delta Air Lines Mission Statement: “We—Delta’s employees, customers, and community partners together form a force for positive local and global change, dedicated to bettering standards of living and the environment where we and our customers live and work.”

Two key things you’ll realize about Delta’s statement is it doesn’t specify a particular product or method and doesn’t limit the scope of the services. This statement allows them to do whatever it takes to fulfill this broad Mission. This is an example of an excellent Mission statement because it has the following characteristics.

First, it sets boundaries that all affiliates can honor. When you are designing or improving operations, the boundaries that your Mission has set will provide a strong framework for containing your decisions. You know which actions that will fit and will not fit.

Second, it helps with hiring and performance management. When performing the required business tasks, it’s very helpful to have some guidelines that have been well established. Your hiring and performance management issues should be aligned with your entrepreneurial intentions. Some employees join businesses because of the business’ special Mission.

Third, it’s a basis for strategy that is not effected by outside forces. It is driven by your organizational intentions. It is unique to your desire as a new business offering.

Fourth, it provides inspiration for commitment and continuous improvement. A good Mission is inspirational and solicits positive emotions from the affiliates because they really believe in it.

After a strong Mission/Purpose is set, the next building block of a lasting enterprise is to design and live by a strong set of Core Values.

As described in Deltas’ Rules of The Road, “strong core values and a clear set of unifying behaviors provide a solid foundation for delta’s culture. Our values are the basis for everything we do. When delta people encounter situations, they use their values and professionalism, along with training and experience to guide their actions and decisions. Our Rules of the Road are timeless.”

Delta’s Rules of the Road:

I. Apply our Basic Business Principles

II. Know our Business and Improve It Constantly

III. Demonstrate Honesty, Integrity and Respect

IV. Drive for Results

V. Build Great Teams

Delta’s Core Values (basic business principles):

Always tell the truth- Honesty

Always keep your deals- IntegrIty

Don’t hurt anyone- Respect

Try harder than all our competitors—never give up- Perseverance

Care for our customers, our community and each other- servant leadership

Again, excellent examples of Core Values and their accompanying behaviors because they share the following characteristics:

First, Core Values help you make good business decisions. For example, if it’s necessary to purchase supplies and the quality of what is available is less than perfect, you would reject them (even at a lower price) because they violate your business Value of high standards, integrity or excellence. You don’t want your product or service affected.

Second, Core Values educate customers and future employees. They know what to expect from your company and may seek you out because of your Values.

Third, Core Values are fundamental. That is, this is one thing that the changing environment won’t alter. Your clearly defined Values should remain the same throughout the life of your business.

As a business owner, you must clearly define your Mission/Purpose and Values for durability. However, you are additionally required to strongly believe in them for these elements to become embedded in your enterprise for sustainable business growth.

More on designing Mission/Purpose and Values in: “20 Directive for Small Business Success: Do or Die”

Change Your Perspective: Become a Big Thinker

Your Vision is your dream. Your Vision is how you see your business once it’s fully successful. Plan a big Vision. Our country needs more successful large enterprises. Plan beyond the “solopreneur” status. A simple definition for Vision: a description of your business at a particular point in the future. Creating a Vision requires deep thinking from the founder(s) because it involves looking at the dominant elements of your business and projecting how they will look in the future. You’ll need to consider growth, Values, employees, contribution to society, financial targets and others that are important to your Mission. Let’s explore some of the reasons that Vision creation is critical to the foundation and fortification of your enterprise.

  • A Vision clarifies the reason the business was created. It explains what you will contribute with your enterprise.
  • Creating a Vision is the initial action you take when you are designing your strategy. The vision gives you a reference point for decisions.
  • The Vision will be the basis for all affiliates to use as they set goals that they are responsible for. With a clear Vision, everyone starts from the same point.
  • The Vision, supported by the Values, motivate and empower affiliates and helps them understand why certain actions and operations are necessary.
  • A Vision anchors your strategies to common objectives and keeps everyone on point.
  • A Vision creates a desire in affiliates to do their best, because everyone is focused toward the same, clear targets.

A good Vision is thoroughly considered and describes the dreams that you have for the enterprise that you are creating. A well thought out Vision has the following characteristics:

It exhibits the purpose and direction of the business.
It is supported by the established Values.
It helps to set operational standards of excellence.
It is believable and motivating.
It is ambitious and challenging.
It identifies the uniqueness of the business.
It’s important to constantly measure your business activities against your Mission, Values and Vision. Of course this is easier said than done. There are hundreds of small things that can take a lot of your time. You can find a way because you are responsible for the nourishment of your business just as you would be for a seedling in your garden. No one understands your Mission, Values and Vision better than you, the Founder(s) and the only way you can permeate your organization with your core elements is to do it yourself.

“The tribe often thinks that the Visionary has turned his back on them.  When in fact, the Visionary has simply turned his face to the future”

Ray A. Davis


Once the Vision is clear in the head(s) of the founder(s), you’ll need to communicate the Vision to affiliates so that is clearly understood and embraced. To do this, you will carry out the role of the “Vision Keeper”.

This might require that you change the way you work and manage your time. You probably really enjoy the hands on effort required to contribute the product or service that you provide. After all, that’s why you started the business anyway. If you continue to work with your head down(on your service, product, or day to day details) and never take time to look at and construct the big picture, it can be fatal to your enterprise. “Big picture thinking” is probably your greatest responsibility and you’ll need to find regular time for it. If you routinely act in the following ways, you will steer your enterprise in the right direction. You will not only work in the business, you will also work on sustaining and growing your business.

A “Vision Keeper” takes time out of his/her busy schedule to be the “Captain of the Ship” and the captain must have a map to help maintain the course or the ship will end up anywhere or no where. The only way that you can have a map is to take time to draw one up. This requires regular times of contemplation. Determine your best thinking time and put it in your schedule. This will help you have essential documentation including a strategic plan ( collaborated if possible). Remain open minded with a learning attitude and pay attention to your emotions. What could they be telling you? Daniel Goldman, in his book, “Emotional Intelligence”, has pointed to the importance of emotions; concluding that the Emotional Quotient is more important than the Intelligence Quotient. He believes that “our deepest feelings, our passions and longings, are essential guides, and that our species owes much of it’s existence to their power in human affairs”. Read the book for an interesting insight. Finally, practice patience to immerse your enterprise in the great Vision that you have for the future and persevere in the face of the many obstacles that you will inevitably face with that patience.

See also: “20 Directives for Small Business Success: Do or Die”