In the autumn of 2016, a Philly-based startup was reconsidering their mission. And they needed some consulting. The organization had been founded to streamline international shipping logistics. It focused on assisting other firms with import compliance. And it was well-positioned to succeed. It was bringing customers’ products into the marketplace more efficiently and less expensively than their competitors.

But the co-founders were restless. They wanted to ensure that their business did more than generate cash. They wanted to use their competitive advantage to make a lasting difference. They hoped to build a profitable culture of compassion into the DNA of their organization. To get there, they realized that they needed a mission statement to help them articulate what they were doing—and why.

In October, the staffer commissioned to draft the mission statement sat down with me at a local coffee shop for a consultation. We discussed the business, its core competencies, its customers, and its sustainability commitments. Then, together, we set a blueprint for its future mission.

Although the company was already socially engaged, there were limitations to each of the ways that leadership had considered for extending their commitment to corporate responsibility.

They had done an initial B Corp certification assessment. This process—provided by B Lab—is a popular way for socially-conscious companies to evaluate internal processes while demonstrating their sustainability commitments to stakeholders. However, several of the evaluation metrics were irrelevant for this company. So it wasn’t clear that the certification process would yield a helpful picture of its social responsibility. There was also concern that this process might divert company resources from other, high-impact commitments and lead to ‘sustainability fatigue.’

The founders were also enthusiastic about partnering with the social enterprise United by Blue: a clothing company that cleans up one pound of trash from aquatic spaces for each article it sells—while also using recycled material for new apparel. However, there was a lack of fit between the strategic commitments and missions of these two firms, which would make a partnership seem inorganic.

Finally, the business was also providing coffee farmers in Latin America pro bono assistance in efficiently importing their fair-trade products. This project relied on close, face-to-face collaboration between producers and distributors. And it compellingly leveraged the company’s core business competencies. But this particular relationship didn’t make sense as a centerpiece of the company’s mission. It wasn’t part of the company’s central business proposition.

Something was missing from all of these different efforts. The business needed a cohesive articulation of a mission that matters. They needed a framework for thinking about how all the different possibilities and efforts fit (or didn’t) into one compelling narrative. And they needed some concrete ideas for coherently implementing that vision.

Thus, the mission statement needed three characteristics:

  1. A vision of import logistics as a space for social innovation;
  2. An account of how this company would leverage its unique economic advantages to foster strategic social partnerships;
  3. A commitment to define stakeholder connections as relationships of reciprocal care, expressed through the business of shipping goods that add value to life.

But we did more than simply talk through general guidelines for a mission statement. We also discussed how leadership could reframe existing features of the company’s culture in terms of its mission. For instance, the business was already taking care of employees by offering them generous compensation and benefits packages. But this is more than just good corporate strategy. It’s also a social commitment to the community where staff members live and work. Corporate social responsibility starts with core business operations.

Then, we considered specific potential strategic partnerships. These would be win-win commercial relationships that would allow the company to achieve something that matters for the producers and the consumers they link together. We talked about ways of scaling up the company’s existing fair-trade coffee project to include other products and markets. We discussed partnering with social enterprises that have special import needs: organizations like 10,000 Villages. Realized savings for such firms would support their business of social empowerment.

Cultivating partnerships like this isn’t just good for clients. It also establishes a competitive niche and attracts like-minded enterprises in adjacent market spaces to seek out your services. It builds an honest reputation for social awareness among potential customers. And it solidifies employees’ commitment to their company as they come to believe in the lasting significance of its value proposition. This firm does more than simply help to deliver commodities. It make peoples’ lives better by linking them together in networks of mutual provision. That recognition gives employees purpose. And it gives clients buy-in. Win-win.

My conversation partner walked away with a blueprint for defining her organization’s mission and implementing it through targeted, cohesive alliances. I walked away determined to find more thought partners.

Conversations like this are energizing for me. But they’re also empowering and exciting for leaders looking for bigger, more concrete ways to make their work matter. If that’s you, let’s start a conversation.