About three years ago, though it’s hard to remember the month or really even the year, my father-in-law asked me if Summit had a “mission statement.” Sure, I said, and proceeded to wax poetic about the various things we did, and how we value relationships, people, etc. I was equal parts defensive, overwhelmed and scattered. “But do you have a mission,” he asked again. I stammered on about coffee, and how great we are — if you’ve ever seen “Office Space,” I was a bit like the character Tom Smykowski shouting over-and-over again, “I have people skills!”
The conversation wasn’t as contentious as my retelling may indicate, but it stuck with me despite some initial external resistance. In terms that Simon Sinek would appreciate, my father-in-law asked for Summit’s “why” and I offered him a boatload of “what.” It was easy to assess that, earnestly, the reason I sink everything into Summit is not to sell coffee. I could over the course of an hour or a weekend explain why I made the choices I did, why Summit pursued some opportunities while shunning others.
And it’s not to say the what’s not important, but it’s fairly impossible to build a business when you’re asking everyone to get aboard a boat of what. Because when what changes, when we decide to pivot what we sell or who sells it, we need staff and customers and vendors and investors to stay on board.
Nautical metaphors aside (perhaps a paragraph too late), I recognized the need to summarize our why. Not just for staff and customers and vendors and investors, but also for myself. As a quick-twitch, impatient leader, having an established filter for ideas and opportunities is more-or-less a necessity. So, true story, I picked up a pen and started with lots of buzzwords and whittled a brain full of thoughts down to a 3-sentence mission. Here it is, I quickly sent on Slack to my leadership team. The next day, when someone asked me about it, I could barely remember the key points of the mission, let alone the actual words.
I didn’t nail it in try one, which in hindsight was great. You cannot force a mission statement, just like you can’t (or perhaps shouldn’t) employ pure logic when a situation calls for intuition and feeling. Ultimately, however, it came to life. I crossed out lots of adjectives (what’s a 7th synonym for great?). I violently scratched out dozens of bad sentences. And then I had, in one sentence, a mission:
To approach coffee, community and collaboration with remarkable hospitality and a commitment to excellence.
In 2016, when someone like my father-in-law asked what my vision for Summit was, I would excitedly talk about the number of cafes, our plan for growth, our revenue targets and our tangible goals. That’s not a vision, though. That’s a plan, an outcome, a forecast. Earlier this year, some three years later though it’s hard to remember the exact month, my business consultant Wes Knight asked me, “What’s your vision for Summit.” And instead of opening Google Docs and showing him our budget and our sales targets, I showed him our new retail bags and pointed to the back. There, on the top of every bag we distribute in Davidson and Asheville and Texas and California, is “Our Mission.”
And when Wes asked me, more concretely, where I saw Summit going — “What’s the end goal? What’s the ceiling?” — I reiterated that we don’t have a ceiling, or a target. We have a mission, and a purpose. And we also have Macro Goals. Introduced late in 2018, Summit has nine goals that govern why we make the decisions we do, how we do business, what we’re focusing on. No matter how deep and wide we grow, these goals will govern how we do what we do. They are:
1. To approach each aspect of our business with a commitment to excellence.
2. To be positive members of our communities.
3. To be a fair and good employer.
4. To provide our customers with remarkable, uplifting experiences
5. To collaborate within coffee and other industries.
6. To stay curious and humble.
7. To be sustainable, financially and environmentally.
8. To have fun.
9. To share our story.
I don’t know, concretely, where Summit will be in nine months or nine years. I do know, however, what getting there is going to look like. It’s a company, and a group of people, on a mission that we share and believe in. It’s five of us packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the cherry red Summit Jeep right now on a Tuesday afternoon heading to Asheville just to eat dinner with the team there, and this blog needing to come to an end because I can see our Asheville cafe in the distance.
I finally have a good response for my father-in-law.