Executive Viewpoints Panel

Alexander Group hosted the annual Women Revenue Leaders Forum earlier this year. Over 125 top executives joined us to examine topics at the forefront of many leaders’ minds. One of the executive panels discussed how important it is for companies to have inspirational mission statements.

There was so much interest in this topic that we decided to continue the discussion. Gary Tubridy, Alexander Group principal, is joined by leaders from companies that participated in the original session, and you won’t want to miss out on their insights and advice.

Kim Gastle, Global Head of Revenue Strategy and Execution at Ceridian
Eleezah Safarians, VP – Americas Service and Support at Illumina
Sharon Schoenborn, VP – U.S. Small, Medium and Corporate Segments at Microsoft Corporation

Gary Tubridy: Hello, Gary Tubridy here, principal at the Alexander Group. On April 18th and 19th, we hosted our 2022 Women in Revenue Leadership Conference. Over 125 revenue officers joined us at the Chicago Four Seasons Hotel, where our theme focused on how to identify and leverage the characteristics of enduring leadership. In research today, we found a critical characteristic of enduring leadership companies is that they have missions that are inspirational, that galvanize talent around doing something special, something important. At the April conference, we dedicated a panel session to exploring this characteristic more deeply. At the conclusion of that panel, we collected lots of excellent questions from our audience, several of which we did not have time to address. The purpose of today’s panel session is to take on those questions.

Our panelists are from three great companies that participated in the original session. We have Kim Gastle, global head of Revenue Strategy and Execution for Ceridian, whose mission is to “make work life better.” We have Eleezeh Safarians, the vice president of Americas Service and support at Illumina and their mission is “unlocking the power of the genome for human health.” And last we have Sharon Schoenborn, vice president, U.S. small, medium and corporate segment for Microsoft who operate against the mission of “to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” Three great companies, three great mission statements and thank you so much for joining us to explore this question of mission statements a bit more deeply.

So I think what I’m going to do is I’m going to start with Kim and then go to Eleezeh and then to Sharon on our first question from the audience. And it reads like this, how do you help everyone from customer touching folks that are in front of the customer to support that may be important but not seen? How do you help everybody feel like they’re a part of the organization’s mission and purpose? So, Kim, why don’t we take that up with you first.

Kim Gastle: Thanks, Gary. As you talked about in the beginning, our mission and our purpose at Ceridian is to make work life better. And we think about that in everything that we do. We weave it into everything that we do. With our customers, with our partners, and with our employees. And we make sure the mission and the purpose is clearly communicated in a way that people can really attach to. And when they can really attach to it, they can make it practice in their day to day in their jobs and allow them to then make sure that as they’re continuing to go out into their world of work, that they’re making sure that they’re articulating our vision and our mission and purpose to make work life better, something that then translates into them making decisions that are in the best interest of our company, in the best interests of our customers. In the best interest of our employees and themselves.

Gary Tubridy: It’s almost empowering. It gives them something to aim for independent of having somebody that’s of a manager looking after them right there at that very moment.

Kim Gastle: Exactly. And something that they can really then make their own and that they can take into their day-to-day world.

Gary Tubridy: Yeah. Eleezeh.

Eleezeh Safarians: Thanks, Gary. You know, it is easy when your mission means something to your employees personally. As you said at Illumina, our mission to improve human health by unlocking the power of the genome. It’s a big statement that covers a lot of the aspects of our personal life. So one of the things we have done at Illumina is we have brought our patients’ and our customers’ stories closer to the employees, meaning that bringing a patient story and exemplifying what they’re doing in what our systems, what our products, what are the employees doing to help that patient or help that customer and achieving and in their journey for their genetic odyssey, to find a cure, to do something. This has had a big impact on how people connect at Illumina and drive our mission. Because every one of us at Illumina, and I think even on this panel, has had a cancer story, about a genetic disease, heart problems, mental health. And to bring all of that into your mission and the work you’re doing to drive humanity has had a big impact on how we connect with our mission at Illumina.

Gary Tubridy: You know, it’s interesting, Eleezeh, that you bring up these cases and wonderful cases they are we often think about cases as a means to deliver messages to our customers, our clients. And yet here we are. If we think of our employees as customers, we’re actually using those very cases to deliver a great message to them. Yeah, Sharon.

Sharon Schoenborn: First, thanks for having us. You know, I feel privileged to work for a company that has a pretty amazing mission to empower every person in every organization on the planet to achieve more. That’s a pretty broad mission. But I think the key that I’ve experienced is you have to make it personal. And I think that mission allows us to do that. Even our CEO Satya Nadella, challenges, actively challenges, all of us to make it personal and he asks us to make the Microsoft mission work for us. And I’ve got two examples. First of all, one of the core priorities that every one of us at Microsoft has is a priority to contribute to our diversity and inclusion mission as a company. And we can really shape that in whatever way makes the most impact for us personally and more broadly on the organization. Personally, I’ve invested in the last couple of years really on advancing our women in leadership mission across Microsoft. And I do that just because I surely have a fire in my belly around that. And I feel like that is one of the contributions I can deliver to the business, but hopefully have an impact more broadly beyond my own organization. And I love that about Microsoft. It is something that I don’t just do as a side job. It’s something that I do because I want to. But it also is recognized, and I use that only as an example that when you multiply that by the number of people you have at Microsoft and the impact that can have and the way that they make it personal, that’s really when the magic happens. And I would say that is also exposed in things like our annual give campaign where I’ve used one example, but people make it real in so many ways at Microsoft.

Gary Tubridy: Sharon, I would bet that the Make It Personal mantra could enable you to have very rich discussions with your team, your direct reports about how are we going to make this personal for you, and how are we going to turn that around and make it personal for people that are on your team?

Sharon Schoenborn: It does, Gary, and it takes it beyond our core mission of delivering on our business results. And it allows, I would say, a look into each individual’s lives as well because making it personal exposes those internal passions that I think makes the culture even that much more rich.

Gary Tubridy: Sometimes we’re launching a new mission, sometimes we’re reinvigorating a mission, and we want to make sure that everybody gets the message and we breathe new life into that mission. When you’re doing that, launching a mission or breathing life into a current mission, what are the most effective tools that you have used to do that? Let’s start with Eleezeh.

Eleezeh Safarians: Thanks, Gary. I mean, of course, we all know communication is very important when you’re launching something. However, just communicating about your culture or about your mission is not impactful, like just sending an email or putting it on your Web page. One of the things that we have done very well is, is communicating our culture, our mission through stories to make our mission real for our teams and what it means to our teams. Like we talked about videos—putting our mission statement into video. What does it mean when we talk about unlocking the power of genome? What does it mean when we talk about human health? We celebrate that connection to your mission and those customer stories. Also, make sure that making sure that all the employees are involved at all aspects of the launch. You know, it’s not just a launch and you go along. You know, we always at Illumina when we were launching this mission, we were hyping it up before the launch, hyping it up after the launch. And I would tell you that if you talk to every employee all the way from leadership to our support to our manufacturing, everyone can talk about this mission word by word, not because they’ve memorized it, but because they’ve really invested in it. And it has a personal meaning to all of them. They have really invested themselves in this mission because they believe in what we’re doing for humanity.

Gary Tubridy: It is as if the mission is actually used and useful in people executing their job on a daily and weekly basis. And you make sure it is as a manager and a leader.

Eleezeh Safarians: Exactly. We connect it to the job that they’re doing and what they can deliver. Yes, exactly.

Gary Tubridy: Yeah. So let’s build on that, Sharon. So it sounds like we personalize it, but we do that and then we reconnect on a daily basis on what that means. And that’s pretty exciting. Tell me about that at Microsoft.

Sharon Schoenborn: Yeah, Eleezeh, so much of what you just shared really resonated with me. And I think when I take it one step further, I think about the role we all play as leaders, as frontline managers. It’s all about role modeling. You know, one of the things that we’ve established as a core foundation for all of our people leaders is this concept of model, coach, care. And it really starts with role modeling. And I think when you’re looking to land a mission, it really comes down to having that embedded in the way that you behave every single day and the way that we model that across the organization. And so I can’t underscore how critical that’s been for us, and it really is a core priority for us as an organization, along with our leadership principles that I think make our mission real every day generating energy, creating clarity and delivering success. I think every one of our leaders are grounded in that, and that is tied back directly to our mission.

Gary Tubridy: Yeah. Coach and care. This role of coaching, so critical and making things come to life for members of the team. Yeah. Kim, how about you all?

Kim Gastle: I mean, wonderful things already said. You know, I’d say two things. One is I just underscore the communication part of it. Communication is so critical and communication in so many different forms. So that, again, this concept of people can really personalize it, you know, modeling it again. Sharon, and I think that’s a really, really good point. Right. How are you as a leader modeling it so that people can relate to it? I think relatability is another big factor. And then there’s feedback. One of the things that we do inside the organization, as I’m sure all organizations do, is we’re constantly looking for feedback and we use surveys to do that of all different types and really to get a pulse on is our mission and purpose being heard with inside the organization. Our people relate to our mission and purpose to our values. Do they feel as an organization that we’re really living up to that mission and purpose and that it gives us an opportunity also to make sure that we’re constantly making it relatable, that we’re continuing to role model and model the behaviors that we’re looking for as part of that mission and purpose. I think I’d underscore communication and then feedback and employee engagement.

Gary Tubridy: So you’re actually able to learn some things as you go along and perhaps fine-tune the message or some of the tools that you’re using to get that message out.

Kim Gastle: Exactly. Constant feedback across anything is, in my opinion, is incredibly important.

Gary Tubridy: Yeah. Eleezeh, Sharon, any similar experience at your companies with regard to soliciting feedback from the team?

Sharon Schoenborn: It very much is. And actually, we’ve typically had like an annual pulse Microsoft pool. We’ve actually now transitioned that to be biannual. And because that becomes even more important, especially in this current world of working in a more hybrid mode. I think being able to have those signals surface to us as a business become even more critical. So your points, Kim, really resonate with me.

Gary Tubridy: Yeah. Eleezeh?

Eleezeh Safarians: Same for us. Yeah, same for us. We do have an IPulse survey that we launch twice a year. And one of the questions in the IPulse survey is, does the senior leadership follow the mission, culture and our values? And we get graded on that. And absolutely. And we look at the comments to see what we’re not doing, what we’re doing well and what we’re not doing well and build upon that. Absolutely.

Gary Tubridy: You know, one of the quotes from one of our speakers at the event in Chicago was, you have to think about casting the shadow of a leader across your organization. And I think some of the things that we’ve spoken to in terms of listening, learning and reshaping are important elements of that. Let’s go on to our third question here. And this is key and it speaks to a little bit of what we’ve spoken to already in terms of shaping the mission in ways that matter for our people. And the question is this, how do you allow space for micro-cultures within the organization to grow and blossom in a way that’s empowering but not overpowering to the macro culture itself? And for that, we’ll start with Sharon and then we’ll go to Kim and then Eleezeh.

Sharon Schoenborn: Yeah, I mean, first I want to acknowledge it’s natural for teams to want and need to develop culture. Like if they didn’t, I think something would be wrong. Right? So you can do both and you can live the mission of the organization and you can be a mission-driven team. Some of the things that I have seen is especially when you have unique functional groups, I have found that there are amazing examples of having a consumption-oriented team. I’m thinking in terms of Microsoft terms, a consumption-oriented team helping our customers really get value from what they have, what they’ve purchased from Microsoft, a partnership-oriented team, really being the best business partner to all of our channel partners across the globe. You Know there is absolutely the ability to be a mission-driven team within a broader mission, and I’ve seen great examples of that. The other thing I want to call out, though, is we are operating in a different world today than we were even a couple of years ago. And I think this concept of team agreements is really important because the culture that you build within a team to be able to enable that team and organizational mission is just as important. It is incredibly personal to our people and that culture that you bring, for example, how do you agree as a team how you’re going to work together in a more hybrid way to be able to deliver on the mission of the business? That’s been a really important aspect for us over the last couple of years, and you can’t leave that to chance. It has had to be a very deliberate motion for us. And every single manager across Microsoft has been asked to develop a team agreement in how we actually work together to achieve the mission.

Gary Tubridy: I love the way that is the opportunity to bring the mission down and at a more micro level but done so in the interest of executing that mission within the team. So that really closes the loop very nicely.

Sharon Schoenborn: The yes. And the team agreements piece is new to us. I don’t think we’re perfect at it by any means, but I’ve been talking to a lot of our customers. I find that every day there’s a common opportunity in some cases dilemma around how do you normalize this new world that we’re working in. And I just wanted to underscore the importance of continuing to do that and have those conversations as a team to live the mission.

Gary Tubridy: Sure. Outstanding. Kim?

Kim Gastle: I agree with that. I agree with everything that Sharon said. And I am also a big believer in micro-cultures. I think they’re so important for organizations. I think teams need that opportunity to have that slight deviation in terms of what’s important to them, how do they get motivated, what inspires them? What I think is critical is how then we make sure that ties back to the macro-culture of an organization. And really, in my opinion, that’s around making sure, and we spend a lot of time on this as an organization, is that our mission and our vision and our values and our goals are all connected, and then they’re cascaded down into the organization. And we talked about this around communication and making them relatable and role modeling, and that will really then foster that natural way of making sure that the micro-culture attaches or is part of that greater macro culture. So everything links together. While giving those individual teams the freedom and flexibility to have some uniqueness to what’s important to them, to what they require to bring the best of their selves to work.

Gary Tubridy: Yeah, I like the way that unlocks a little creativity on the part of the teams to think about how they can create something that’s going to make the macro work that much better. Yeah.

Kim Gastle: I think that creativity is critical. The uniqueness of that team, the individuals in that team and what they require in order to again bring the best version of themselves to work every day.

Gary Tubridy: Yeah. And when you unlock that creativity, you also engender a little ownership on their part, which is not a bad thing.

Kim Gastle: Absolutely.

Eleezeh Safarians: I totally agree with Kim and Sharon. But one of the things I would say that different groups at Illumina have different cultures for sure. I think one of the things that has made our mission real is three things across Illumina. It’s our employees, it’s our customers, and it’s our technology. So without either of these, we cannot deliver on our mission. We know that, and we’ve talked about it a lot at Illumina. So at a micro-level we talk about the importance of our employees to achieve the mission. And through the work they do, we talk about our customers and how providing the best service to our customers and enabling our customers and being a partner to our customers allows us to help them achieve that human health. The other thing is we have something at Illumina which we say innovation is in our DNA and creating innovative products and putting those in the hands of our customers is another thing that will allow the mission to grow. So bringing all these three micro-cultures together does not overpower our mission, but I think it strengthens our mission through the work of our employees, customers and our technology. And that’s what every culture, little culture at Illumina has. It’s around these three things. However, they want to phrase it, it’s about these three things.

Gary Tubridy: It sounded to me like the way you approach it, it kind of honors the unique contributions of the different individuals on their teams, because absent a given contribution, we can’t make it. We have to come together. And with the combination of those factors, then we’ve got something really special.

Eleezeh Safarians: Absolutely. We have found it very strong that if you can connect your mission to what people do and people understand why they’re doing something for someone or something, basically it gives them the pride and proud to drive that mission further.

Gary Tubridy: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Eleezeh Safarians: They just have to connect with it.

Gary Tubridy: Yes. We have one more question. What advice do you have for a revenue leader in a company that lacks a well-articulated or inspirational mission? Where might they look to inspire without the benefit of such a mission statement? It almost gets to the question before about micro-cultures how can we build off of something? Or if that doesn’t exist, how can we use our innovative, creative spirit as a way to energize our team? So we’ll go back to our original starting order and start with Kim.

Kim Gastle: Thanks, Gary. So when I take a look at the, when you’re an organization or if you’re a leader and you can’t relate to the words on the page relative to your particular mission statement or purpose from the organization, I think there’s an opportunity to really look at the underlying meaning of what they’re trying to get after and how can you then take a derivative of that and really try to relate and make it your own? And so although it may not be the exact words on the paper or you’re not articulating it in the exact way that underlying message is there. And I think that that’s an opportunity to make sure that you’re taking the tone of the organization while making it your own. I think the other opportunity is in many organizations, people are looking at the opportunity to take that and make it their own. The second thing I’d say is take a look for people that inspire you in that particular organization that you see or are working towards that mission or owning or modeling that mission or vision in a way that you can relate to, and then use that as your North Star and use that as your inspiration and take your inspiration from that.

Gary Tubridy: Very interesting. It’s a little bit like Eleezeh said. Find some great cases, in this case within the organization, and use their creativity as a means to perhaps create something that does not now exist, but you can use it and do something with that.

Kim Gastle: Yeah, and to look for inspiring people around you and create inspiration for others.

Gary Tubridy: Yeah, Eleezeh.

Eleezeh Safarians: Gary, if you don’t mind, let me tell you how our mission became an inspirational mission, and then I’ll get into the other part. Our mission is inspirational because our leaders did the work very early on. They started with a survey to our teams, to the employees across the company, asking about what does an inspirational mission look like? How does Illumina inspire people? What at Illumina connects you to your culture? And then when they got all the combinations of those responses, they came up with a mission because the overpowering word was helping humanity. And that’s where this mission came from. So I think for you to create an inspirational mission, you have to connect with your employees about the mission. You have to remember that everyone comes to work and is proud to work for that company, but they need to have a purpose to understand the impact of the work they put in. Who is it helping? What is it helping? Is it helping the environment? Is it helping humanity? What is it doing? And then put that into your mission. Now, if your mission is not inspirational, that’s okay. I have worked for companies where the mission has not been inspirational, but the leaders were inspirational. And what the leaders did, they connected our work, employees’ work, to what we’re delivering to the world. So it really comes down to the leader and it really comes down to connecting the employee and the purpose of the work that the company is doing for something or someone.

Gary Tubridy: Yeah. So if I may offer a synopsis, it’s not about the mission, it’s about the leader. And if the mission doesn’t quite inspire people, then it’s up to the leader to provide that inspiration. Yeah, right. Take charge.

Sharon Schoenborn: You know, advice to the revenue leaders who are watching this who might have a less well-articulated mission is clear from my perspective, you need to challenge this. You need a North Star because I can’t imagine leading in an organization that does not have that North Star. I would also suggest the best talent are mission-driven. And in order to be able to attract and retain the best talent, they’re going to be driven and attracted to a company that’s inspiring and that oftentimes gets signaled through the core mission. You know, it’s also obvious how we deliver for our customers and our shareholders. So my guidance really is to your earlier point Eleezeh, that you’ve got to take control, you have to take control and really drive that because at the end of the day, it also suggests that leaders can be transient, but a mission should be core and foundational to a business. And that’s to me why I think it is so important. So if you don’t feel like you have that today as a senior leader in your organization, I suggest that it’s your role to really agitate to drive for one.

Gary Tubridy: I could not agree more. And the notion of leaders are indeed transient. They might go to another company. They indeed might go somewhere else in your organization because they really love the company. But they’re doing something else. But the culture and the mission that surrounds that culture, that’s what lives from day to day, from a leader to leader, because it’s built to be generational. And I think that’s a great spot for us to conclude our panel session to answer those additional questions. So, Kim, Eleezeh, Sharon, thank you so much for joining us and for taking on those questions. Greatly appreciated. A lot of wisdom there and I hope our audience is able to view this and get a lot of value from it. Thank you so much.

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