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Last week Carl and I met up in San Diego for a pair of conferences: the Inc. Small Giants International Summit and the Inc. Leadership Forum. We got to know several other business owners who are a few steps ahead of us on a very similar journey. We heard from some great speakers who presented smart ideas and challenges that are still spinning in our heads. And we spent time with leaders and members of the Small Giants and Inc. communities – an awesome group of people with a genuine passion for running purposeful, fulfilling and successful businesses.

A thread that wove its way through both conferences (and one that still resonates within me a few days later) is the importance of our company’s purpose, mission, vision and values. Several speakers provided practical advice about ways to ensure that these things are not just ideas floating around inside our heads. I took away three key points:


The brilliant Ari Weinzweig was one of the first speakers at the Small Giants Summit and one of the first things he did was ask us a question: “How many of you have a vision for the future of your company?” Most of us raised our hands. “Great!” he said. “And how many of you have written it down?” Less hands. “If you haven’t written it down, you don’t really have a vision,” he argued. Ari went on to say that it doesn’t end with documenting your vision, but that an effective vision must also be communicated.

Ari Weinzweig


Nick Sarillo told us about how he shares his company’s core values with job applicants during the interview process, inviting them to opt out right up front if the same things are not also important to them. Vanessa Nornberg includes her company’s mission and values in the text of every job post. Jim Ludema showed us how Tasty Catering hangs its core values on the walls in large print and encourages employees to recite the core values at the beginning of meetings.

Return on Values Research Initiative

3. USE IT.

We also saw how Tasty Catering consults their core values at key decision points (big and small), and uses them to give feedback on a daily basis. Ari Weinzweig described how Zingerman’s employees use visioning for everything – even in tackling everyday challenges like how to use less plastic straws at their restaurants. Paul Speigelman showed us his Culture IQ Survey, which can help companies gauge how much they are using their purpose, mission, vision and values to institutionalize a culture of employee engagement.

Inc Leadership Forum

There was a lot more business leadership wisdom shared at the conferences, and you can see the highlights in my sketchnotes on flickr. Don’t miss Dr. Brene Brown on the Power of Vulnerable Leadership or Chester Elton on Creating a Culture of Belief. Enjoy!

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