Picking the right scale for your mission is an art. Define your purpose too narrowly and soon run out of aspirations to fill. Set your sights too high and you risk de-motivating your people. To illustrate this concept, I want to examine two seemingly similar companies: inVentiv Health (VTIV) and PDI Inc. (PDII).
In 2002 inVentiv Health and PDI were battling head to head in an emerging type of business: providing outsourced sales forces and marketing services to healthcare companies. The healthcare industry was experiencing a shift. Pharmaceutical firms were beginning to look at their variable cost structure and flexibility, looking for partners who performed non-core, non-strategic activities at a lower cost than they could on their own.
inVentiv and PDI both seemed well positioned to ride the coming wave. Both had survived a disastrous year in which each company shrunk by nearly 50%. They were lean and hungry, and they were each standing at about $250 million in revenue. (PDI was slightly larger at $284 million in 2002 revenue, compared to inVentive’s $215 million.)
Both companies were ready to grow, but each would pursue growth through distinctive strategies.
During the next seven years, PDI’s revenues would steadily fall to just $115 million by 2008, a 60% drop. Meanwhile, inVentiv’s revenues skyrocketed to $1.1 billion by 2008, a 520% rise.
How can two companies so alike in size and ambition have such divergent futures? I got a chance to talk with Blane Walter, inVentiv’s CEO, about his company’s experiences and its mission. That’s where I saw a clear difference.
PDI describes itself as “a leading provider of outsourced pharmaceutical sales teams that target healthcare providers.” While accurate, the mission’s inspirational component, to be “a leading provider,” points to a fairly predictable destination, “outsourced pharmaceutical sales.”
inVentiv’s self-description allows for more flexibility: “inVentiv Health Inc. …is a leading provider of value-added services to the pharmaceutical, life sciences and healthcare industries.” It allows the company to step beyond outsourced sales into R&D, marketing, and advertising, for example, while still sticking to its mission.
This is similar to another company I’ve featured, Vistaprint. While their competitors limit themselves to being “printers,” Vistaprint wants to do anything it can do profitably to help small businesses market themselves.
There is well-established influencing technique that suggests you call someone something and, for at least an instant, they put on the character or the label of what you just named. They then act accordingly. If you say, for example, “you are one of those kinds of people who are not afraid to take risks,” then it is easier to get that person to take a risk.
Mission, visions, or self-conceptions play a similar role in organizations. As we’ve seen many times over, what a group of people know themselves to be guides what options they see and which they choose. A broader self-conception, then, will enable your people to see more fourth options because it gives them more space in which to explore.
As inVentiv’s mission allows for a broader view of how the company can compete for business and grow, PDI limits its vision to an “outsourced pharmaceutical sales team.”
This distinction between the missions may seem minor, but a lot of my research into strategic narratives shows that people are wired to live the stories they are told. Ask yourself the questions below to see how you can potentially broaden your mission to engage and ignite your staff.
- What is our current mission?
- How does this mission limit our client base or service offierings?
- Is it built around the capability you are the best at, or is it designed to fit industry-defined boundaries?
- How could we subtly, yet effectively, change our mission to spark new ideas with our employees?
- Are there new industries our company could service by altering our original vision?
Kaihan Krippendorf (www.kaihan.net), a founding Fellow of the Center for Leadership and an adjunct professor in the College of Business Administration, is the author of Hide a Dagger Behind a Smile and The Way of Innovation. This article was originally written as an entry for his FastCompany.com blog “The Outthinker: Mavericks that Out Innovate the Competition.” The opinions expressed in this column are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of either FIU or the College of Business Administration.
View all articles by Kaihan Krippendorff.