Forbes - Leadership

Mission Statements Don’t Create Cultures: Today’s CEOs Must Take Ownership

The workplace has become less about the organization defining the individual and much more about the individual defining the organization’s mission. In other words, organizations are experiencing the tensions of outdated standards that are no longer accepted in today’s more personalized world.

Unfortunately, when personalization challenges standardization, standardization fights back hard. This explains why CEOs are struggling to create workplace cultures and systems in which employees feel seen, known and heard.

Standardization makes it difficult for “traditional CEOs” to see the value in creating a culture that respects and is inclusive of the mass variances in the people they lead. Written mission, vision and values statements don’t create cultures, they define expectations. And when executives don’t act on those expectations, they quickly begin to lose the respect and trust of their employees. This explains why the retention and recruitment of top talent (let alone consumer loyalty) is becoming more and more difficult. People don’t want to associate themselves with employers and brands that underdeliver on their promises.

The modern-day CEO must take ownership of their organization’s culture. Their objective should be focused on uniting and igniting the diversity of thought that comes from employing multiple generations. Thanks to the forces of the cultural demographic shift, employees will no longer assimilate to the status quo.

We are learning the hard way that in an organization’s pursuit to support diversity, equity and inclusion to create a greater sense of belonging for their employees – we unknowingly create “us versus them” barriers toward unity. In the age of personalization, it’s no longer about “us versus them”, but rather “me and we.” Disrupting the standardization of the status quo is about acknowledging that the broader and more interconnected perspectives amongst C-suite leaders and their employees are, the more opportunities they can see and seize as they co-design the path forward.


Recently I spoke with Brian Garish, President of Banfield Pet Hospital. Banfield is the leading provider of preventive veterinary care in the U.S. with more than 1,000 hospitals powered by thousands of veterinarians and more than 19,000 associates. Garish believes that driving growth, while retaining and attracting top talent, is difficult to sustain without a purpose-driven culture built on shared values that respect the individuality and perspective of each associate. When I asked Garish why he prioritizes culture first, he shared the following four points:

1. Strategy without empathy is a wasted idea

I truly believe that there’s a strong link between culture and business growth. Key to the creation of a positive culture is an open, two-way dialogue that allows you to know what your associates are thinking, including their own ideas for how to improve business outcomes. 

2.  Associates need to feel they can speak up and be heard without judgement

As leaders, it is our job to ensure that associates feel safe to speak up. That’s the only way we can engage in transformational conversations that allow us to continually assess and improve the ways we work, lead and conduct business. This is especially important at Banfield, where over 75% of our total workforce is represented by millennials and Gen Z. They expect their leaders to listen and value their opinion.

3.  Culture is everyone’s responsibility

The pandemic has been a call to action for leaders to help humanity. Culture is my top priority. As leaders, we are critical to our organization’s culture. Yet no matter your position, you control culture. I encourage my team to use “yes, and” thinking so we can build off each other’s ideas to find the right solutions.

4.  Our Five Principles are rooted in culture

Banfield, which is part of Mars Veterinary Health, has benefited from a strong culture rooted in our Five Principles. As a private, family-owned organization, we have the unique ability to create a culture that thinks in generations versus quarters, focusing on and solving long-term societal issues. As a result of our culture, we have seen strong positive results including growing the business significantly faster than the industry over the past five years and the lowest turnover in our history.

When I asked Brian to share his perspectives on how he leads and prioritizes culture, he imparted the following wisdom that other CEOs, business leaders and emerging leaders can learn from:

“Each day I try my best to create a positive culture by leading with empathy, impatience and impact. Empathy goes back to the idea of listening at scale. I want to be sure that the voice of those closest to our consumers are the loudest voice across our organization. My whole career I have had an urgency to overdeliver, not only for myself but for the people around me and for society at large. There are so many pressing issues in front of us right now from social injustice to health and wellbeing. People are looking for immediate action, not just talk, from brands, businesses, and leaders. I share in their impatience and am eager to speak in their terms and make progress now. I measure impact not only through business results. More importantly, it’s about how we are positively changing the lives of people, pets and society. I am constantly driving our discussions and decisions back to how can we improve the lives and realities of everyone in our care.”

During our Zoom interview, Brian paused, reflected and passionately said, “I can remember when I started my career working on the frontlines at a major retailer, I was always frustrated when we’d have a visitor from the corporate office and they’d only talk to the store manager. As someone talking to customers every day, my perspective and our team’s perspective was just as, if not more, valuable than theirs. This is why I make it a point when visiting our hospitals to speak and listen to everyone to ensure our associates’ voice dictates the vision of our organization. I also use social media to listen at scale so when I scroll through my Instagram feed, I can see what’s happening in our hospitals.” 

Brian made it clear to me that his approach to prioritizing culture isn’t difficult; it’s just different. And it was born from his own personal experiences and interactions with his associates. As he declared, “our associates fuel my purpose. Learning from the people I am responsible to serve has made me a more informed, self-aware and effective leader for the betterment of the organization and to make a better world for pets.”

Brian is a strong example of how a modern-day CEO thinks, acts and leads. We can all learn from his empathy, impatience and impact.

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