I own stock in some publicly traded companies, so my recent mail has delivered a spate of annual reports. My favorite came from Dun and Bradstreet, which boldly printed its vision on the cover: “To be the most trusted source of business insight so our customers can decide with confidence.” The report followed with a list of company values and D&B's pledge that “all our activities and decisions must be based on, and guided by, our values.”

Mark Robert Halper

Here are three of the six values:

  • Treat all people with respect and dignity; value differences.
  • Conduct ourselves with the highest level of integrity and business ethics.
  • Place the interest of customers first; our success depends on their success.
  • “By behaving in accordance with these values,” concludes the list, “we will provide outstanding service to our customers, maintain a leadership position in our business, improve satisfaction for our team members, and provide superior value to our shareholders.”

    Experts seem to agree that when a business is driven by an inspiring vision and/or a mission that emphasizes core values, it creates a special workplace where motivated employees can deliver exceptional service to clients. I have found this to be true in my work with remodelers. So I assumed that each of the other 10 annual reports I reviewed would give a strong sense of how the company pictured itself and the core values it taught, protected, and modeled.

    Disappointingly, none were as out-front as D&B. Six touched a bit on values, culture, and vision, but in a scattered way that seemed as much public relations as actual practice. Four others were completely devoid of inspiration and information (other than technical) about the companies' goals and their ground rules for reaching them.

    That puts Tom Mitchell, owner of Mitchell Construction, Medfield, Mass., far ahead of these major international corporations. He's investing considerable time and money to develop a clear mission statement and define the core values and behaviors his company will work by. Why? “I attended a Disney Institute seminar in Orlando and experienced the effect of a positive culture,” Mitchell says. “I intuitively knew that if my company could offer such a positive culture, there was no way we wouldn't be successful. If we had thrilled employees serving thrilled clients, we would have a personal advantage and a competitive advantage.”

    Mitchell began by having everyone in the company read Full Steam Ahead, by Ken Blanchard and Jesse Stoner, which teaches how to create a successful vision and define core values. Then he brought in a consultant to spend a day working with all staff in defining the company's vision and values. Full buy-in resulted; everyone wanted to be part of the defined values and culture they had helped to develop.

    Next, Mitchell Construction wrote a charter that named a “Framers Committee” to edit and publish the mission and values statements. “The key people have become enthusiastic,” Mitchell says, “and it's their job to keep the rest of the company fired up about culture. We aren't rushing — both because we are busy and because this is so important. This is forever. We talk about culture every day in every meeting,” he says.

    Ask Tom Mitchell for advice for other remodelers who want to start down this culture-initiative path, and here's what he says: “You first have to trust that if you make the leap, that it has value. It's not a pep talk. It's the difference between giving a person a fish versus teaching them how to fish. The key is not the end result of having it all on paper; it's the thinking behind that paper that's important. The power isn't in perfecting your company culture; it's in working toward it.”

    Keep up the good work, Mitchell Construction! —Linda Case, CRA, is founder of Remodelers Advantage Inc. in Laurel, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. 301.490.5620; linda@remodelersadvantage.com;