During my career, I have worked for two companies that have celebrated 50 years of success: ESD (Environmental Systems Design, Inc.) and Walmart Stores, Inc. As I reflected on what has made these two companies successful, I realized that both — despite significant differences in size and services — share four core characteristics: Mission, Culture, Values and People.
Companies craft mission statements to explain why they exist and describe what makes them successful. The two companies I’ve worked for have achieved success due to an unwavering commitment to their original mission statements — ones that can be traced to the ideals of their company founders, Hem Gupta of ESD and Sam Walton of Walmart.
What makes each of the company’s mission statements meaningful is that they both speak to helping provide a better means of living. At ESD, we realize that people spend around 90% of their time indoors. Because of this, as engineers and consultants, our mission is “Improving Society Through the Built Environment” by making building spaces more productive, safer, healthier, more comfortable, better connected and fun. ESD is committed to the environment, and we approach all of our work with sustainability as a fundamental construct. We strive to develop fit-for-purpose approaches that responsibly consume the earth’s resources both initially and over time.
Walmart’s mission is “Saving people money so they can live better”. The company emphasis is being a low-cost operator to pass on savings to its customers through everyday low prices. Walmart measures its own environmental sustainability throughout its business and influences it vendors to operate sustainable business practices. With a company as large as Walmart, this can significantly impact the future.
Both companies have developed a culture that is championed by tenured employees, and they boast founders who were committed to their businesses as teachers of their trade.
At ESD, our corporate secretary retired after more than 40 years of working for the company. At Walmart, tenured employees are recognized by the gold associate badge received after 20 years with the company. Why are tenured employees important? Their institutional knowledge — which is not documented anywhere within the company — is called upon time and again. They are the standard bearers who pass the culture to future leaders and employees to ensure continued success.
Long after they could have retired, both company founders embraced roles as teachers of the trade. Innovators within their respected industries, each returned to the office frequently, where their lessons were appreciated by new generations of employees.
Values make up a company’s DNA. Both firms have three values or beliefs which are similar to each other and also connect to those of the founders.
For ESD, the values are:
- Respect everyone
- Work hard
- Play to win
At Walmart, the basic beliefs are:
- Respect for the individual
- Service to customer
- Strive for excellence
Both companies champion respect throughout their business environment. Respect is not only demonstrated to customers but also to vendors and employees without compromise. Through respect, employees are able to communicate, innovate, and build a teamwork mentality that generates success.
Priority is placed on servicing the customer in both companies. By soliciting feedback, listening, and driving continuous improvement, both companies have been able to provide an enhanced experience for their customers and to provide loyalty through repeat business.
Playing to win and striving for excellence requires that both the company and its employees set and achieve aggressive goals. This requires teamwork, commitment, and accountability. Each company has maintained continuous growth over the last 50 years by celebrating success, learning from and correcting opportunities for improvement quickly and promoting accountability for results at all levels of the organization.
A company’s greatest asset is its people. For each company, the notion of taking care of employees so they can take care of the business encompasses every business decision. Both companies invest in training for their employees and encourage employees to complete career development plans. Employee evaluations are a top priority, with individual goals aligned to business goals to ensure business success.
Employee engagement is measured annually and action plans implemented to drive improvement. Grass-roots meetings are scheduled frequently to solicit feedback from employees regarding what is working, opportunities for improvement and how to make the work environment more engaging. Both companies encourage their employees to attend company meetings that are scheduled throughout the year to provide an overview of the business.
I’ve been fortunate to spend my 26-year career with two outstanding companies. Their time-tested traits mean they will shine well beyond another 50 years.