“Give ‘Em the Pickle!”: How to Keep Your Business and Employees Focused on What's Important

A clear business mission statement keeps you and your employees dedicated to your values.

A company's mission statement tells you why they do what they do. They are often short, punchy, with plenty of actions words that provide a sense of direction and help the company stand out in a crowded market.

But the best mission statements are also business philosophies that dictate their values and beliefs, and the best companies truly live by them.

One of my favorite philosophies is the "pickle principle." It goes like this: A long-time restaurant customer ordered his usual hamburger and asked for an extra pickle, which he always got in the past. This time, the waitress wanted to charge him $1.25 for the pickle.

When he protested, the waitress spoke with the manager, and returned with a back-up offer of a nickel for the extra pickle. The man promptly got up and left, and even wrote an angry letter to the owner about how they treat customers. The owner, Bob Farrell, made amends, but the experience taught him a valuable business lesson: "Give 'em the pickle!"

It became his company's philosophy and part of their mission statement that you should do what it takes to satisfy your customers. It sent a strong message to their clientele, competitors, and employees about what the company stands for and what people can expect.

There are many successful and admired companies who also follow the "pickle principle" in their mission statement and business philosophy, and lead by example. The key is making sure mission statements are short, easy to understand and impactful. Here are some of my favorites and what messages I have learned from them--and you can, too.

Build customer loyalty by supporting a cause.

Patagonia, the outdoor clothing and gear company's mission statement is: "Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis." Patagonia's statement combines both their values--high-quality products and their values of helping the environment by donating time, services, and at least 1 percent of their sales to global grassroots environmental groups.

Their philosophy also builds customer loyalty. Since he was a little, my son has been passionate about the environment. Mission statements like these create brand loyalty for him because he believes in their cause. Even if there is a brand that is more expensive, if his belief aligns with a company, he will spend more to support their mission.

Create a relationship with your brand.

Another outdoor gear company, REI, has a mission statement that reflects their hands-on philosophy of protecting the environment and empowering their employees and customers to get involved in conservation efforts: "We inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship." Every year, REI donates to many national conservation efforts, but the company also roles up its sleeves and enlists volunteers from the REO coop members, customers, and employees to build trails, clean beaches, and restore habitats.

Missions like these spark enthusiasm, promote work-life balance, and creates a mutual relationship between me and the brand without knowing anyone in the company. The fact that they promote their employees to be active in their mission, outside of work, makes me feel better when I buy from them.

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Give a percentage of your revenue back to charity.

Life is Good, a T-shirt and hat company, has the mission statement: "To spread the power of optimism." It's short and sweet, but quite powerful if you look at how they conduct business. They spread optimism through many of their products with uplifting and positive slogans, but they also funnel 10 percent of their net profits to their Life is Good Kids Foundation. This supports childcare professional development and promote its #GrowTheGood initiative through social media.

Do you have a mission statement or business philosophy? If so, does it reflect your values, and more important, does your business follow them? I always tell my business clients to brainstorm words with their team that everyone thinks reflects what they do, how they feel about working there, and how their customers feel about them.

You can enlist your employees, family, and customers in this process, too and make it fun. You will begin to see repetitive themes that will help you begin forming a mission that is meaningful and reflects the "why" for your company. Once you finalize your "pickle principle" it can help you stay focused on why you do what you do--and why your customers and team should care.

Originally published on Inc.com on Jan 31, 2018