By Joe Robinson, Hummingbird CEO
A company mission is a great thing to have. I don’t think I’ll surprise anyone by saying that. Hummingbird’s mission – Fight financial crime – helps define our company in several important ways. It gives us a strong foundation for decision-making, attracts an ambitious team, and allows us to communicate our value proposition in a way that’s crystal clear.
But there’s a paradox here. Because while it’s (morally) good for a business to be a mission-driven company, it’s also true that being a mission-driven company is (financially) good for business. The company attributes I list above are also the building blocks of a successful business. Our mission-based approach contributes directly to our success.
No wonder, then, that the annals of business literature are filled with articles on why you need to be a mission-driven company, and how to become one. And if simply “becoming” a mission-driven company is all it takes to boost revenue, how do you distinguish between companies with a genuine mission, and those who are simply in it for the bump to the bottom line?
Take a look at the market landscape over the past decade and you’ll see a wave of purpose and vision. You’d be hard-pressed today to find a company that’s not mission-driven – at least on paper. But this flood of idealism (some real, some surface-level) has had a saturating effect. Consumers today understand what’s happening. They’re aware of the value exchange taking place, and have grown cynical. Instead of believing in every company’s mission, they’ve stopped believing in the idea of a mission statement at all. The Wall Street Journal recently poked fun at consumer products with world-improving ambitions, asking “Does Your Mayo Need a Mission Statement?” Similarly, a recent New Yorker article by Jill Lepore described the shift of company mission statements from internal North Star to public relations stratagem as “a big part of why they’re bullshit.”
Obviously, as Hummingbird’s CEO, I believe in our mission. I don’t think it’s superficial. In fact, I believe it’s central to what we do and who we are. But I’m aware of the cynicism that’s out there. Realistically, there’s no foolproof way to stop people from feeling skeptical about the specific motivations behind our mission statement. But there are things we can do – inside Hummingbird and for our customers – to make sure our mission is never just lip service. Things that make sure we always put our money where our mouth is.
What follows are five questions we regularly ask ourselves in order to ensure that we are always working to fulfill the promise of our mission statement. How we answer these questions is as important to us as our bottom line. They’re essential internal metrics, and we treat them no differently than our other KPIs.
Five Questions that Hold Us Accountable to Our Mission.
1. Are we focused on work that impacts our mission?
This may sound silly, but the fact of the matter is that every company has a laundry list of problems related to simply being a business. Every company has a natural desire to grow and be successful, but focusing on the company’s business challenges runs the risk of drawing attention away from our mission. That’s why, whenever we’re considering a new feature, product, or endeavor, we ask ourselves, “Will our course of action directly contribute to our efforts to fight financial crime?”
2. Does our product address the problem in a tangible, material way?
Like any modern market, the world of RegTech blurs the lines between itself and other adjacent industries, everything from financial technology, compliance, regulatory law, and banking, to name just a few. Developing a product that touches so many other industries can quickly lead you down rabbit holes and into believing that you will succeed by simply “doing it all.” This is a wrongheaded approach (for a number of reasons), and we’ve found that – by focusing on mission-level goals – we hold ourselves to objectives and growth plans that are targeted, effective, and sustainable.
3. Does success for our company translate to success in fighting the problem?
No company has ever been shy about sharing its success with the world. But when was the last time a company told you how its mission is going? The metrics for how we perform against our mission goal are given the same level of scrutiny and attention as our quarterly reports. We measure how well we’re driving efficiency improvements for our customers; we reflect on customer feedback, using it to spearhead development of our newest tools and features; we take stock of every area where we help augment investigator intelligence and each new touchpoint where we have improved collaboration. These are the areas where our mission is action, not words, and our progress in these areas is as important to us as any of our business metrics.
4. Are we willing to make business sacrifices or to collaborate with business competition if it means making good on our mission goal?
How much do you care about your company mission? Do you care enough to work with your competition? At Hummingbird, we believe that if we can build products that integrate directly with competitor’s services, we should. We call this modular interoperability, and it’s an approach laser-focused on helping our consumers realize their ideal solution. Do we leave money on the table in some deals by creating products that play nice with the competition? Probably. But it’s an approach that gives our customers what we believe to be the best possible solution available. And that, in turn, furthers our mission to help fight financial crime.
5. Will contributions the company makes towards solving the problem carry forward into the future?
Growing companies are always looking toward the future. The question “How do we ensure success in ten, twenty, or fifty years’ time?” is never far from a startup CEO’s mind. But there’s an equally important (and often ignored) consideration here. Namely, will the company help improve the industry as a whole ten, twenty, or fifty years down the road? At Hummingbird, part of realizing our mission is making sure we’re focused on long-term solutions. We’re building tools that we believe will stand the test of time, benefitting the financial investigators who use them for years to come. By doing so, we help ensure that the inroads we make on our mission to fight financial crime have a chance to build momentum, bringing about cumulative, transformative change.
Like I said, I understand the cynicism that follows company mission statements. Plenty of people reading this article may see it as nothing more than a thinly-veiled marketing ploy. There’s nothing we at Hummingbird can do to control that.
Here’s what we can make sure of: that people within the company, our customer base, and industry all know deep in their gut that Hummingbird doesn’t make empty promises. That we mean what we say, and hold ourselves to the highest standard.
And that, most of all, when we say we’re going to fight financial crime, there’s no B.S. about it.