A few months back, I traveled to Philadelphia and toured Independence Hall. The thing that struck me the most about our story of independence was how much it has evolved over the years. We think about this one day—the day our founding fathers signed the declaration of independence—and yet really, it was on July 2, 1776 that the Continental Congress voted to separate. On July 4, New York was still holding out. Really, there were lots of personalities with disparate, strong opinions and consensus was not so simple. Really, it was only on August 2 that the Declaration of Independence was signed. Really, independence was not a point in time, but a long, drawn out process.
It’s kind of like all those startups with overnight success stories. Except that when you ask the founders, it wasn’t overnight at all, but years of doing two jobs at once, working 100 hours a week, following every lead, tapping every investor, telling their story to anyone who would listen.
But, having one celebration date is convenient and easily repeatable and being an overnight success is inspiring and media worthy. In short:
It’s all about perception.
In the 1800s, painters, poets and politicians re-framed the way we think about the Revolutionary War, its heroes, our founding fathers, and the stories surrounding them. It’s why President Washington looks like a god in paintings, why all the battle scenes look more glorious than destructive, and why the founding fathers look like they all got along. It’s kind of like a group of artists banded together to construct an elaborate PR campaign decades after the event. And generations of people bought into it.
So... what do you want people to buy into? How do you want your company to be perceived? What is the reality you want your customers and your employees to experience, and are you actively creating that reality?
The first step is understanding how you’re perceived in the first place. Once you acknowledge that and have a clear end goal in mind, you can start to make changes to your interactions and communications to inch toward that goal. Don’t forget that it’s much harder to change people's perceptions of you once they’re already formed, so give it time, be diligent, and don’t give up. And, use every poor customer review or employee feedback as an opportunity to be better.
In your business, perception is everything so in everything you do, paint the picture you want people to see because only you know what it should look like! At Paro, we always talk about building a karma bank—to treat others how you would want to be treated, to do the right thing, to point prospective clients in the direction they need (even if doesn’t always benefit us)—and hopefully all those positive experiences and helpful interactions will make their way back to us some day!
Don’t lose your message.
Have you ever been to an Independence Day party where people actually talk about the history? July 4 is all about hot dogs, hamburgers, American flag swim trunks, and fireworks. People rarely talk about how we fought for freedom, what freedom means to us, what our values are. The true message of Independence Day got lost in a Miller can.
Don’t let this happen to your business. Don’t forget the excitement you felt when you first started it and how that came across in your conversations and your pitch. Reinforce the message over and over again to your team members, your clients, and your prospects. Make sure that the message you’re telling reflects who you are and who you’ve become, that it’s authentic and easily repeatable.
What’s a message with no underlying values? Pretty empty.
Talk about and live out your values.
The Declaration of Independence is essentially a document of values—Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—and our founding fathers literally fought for these rights (though they held many misguided beliefs on who should benefit from them).
What are your company’s values? What are you unwilling to compromise? Have you written them down? Do you and your employees live out your values every day?
More and more, people are choosing to buy from and work with companies who share their values. It’s why brands like Tom’s, Harley Davidson, Patagonia, and Method, to name a few, are so powerful. Don’t forget that your values should be authentic to your organization, simultaneously reflecting your existing culture and aspiring to what you want to be going forward. If you’ve merely listed out a bunch of words you aspire to but don’t do anything day-to-day to live them out, they probably don’t reflect your true values.
If you’re not sure how to start defining your company’s values, here are a few questions to get you thinking:
Why do you love about working at your company?
What don’t you love about working at your company?
What parts of your company are you proud of?
What’s important to you as a team / company?
What was your favorite day?
Who is the best worker on your team and what makes them the best?
What does your company mean to you?
What will help guide you when you are facing a difficult decision?
We, at Paro, hold these truths—our perception, our story, and our values—to be self evident, and we work hard to live and breathe them every day. None of this is earth-shattering, but sometimes, in this age of constant innovation, we forget that history can still teach us something.