setting direction ebook cover

Setting Direction: A Guide to Designing your Core Belief System


Editors Note: The following is an excerpt from a free e-book. You can download the full e-book here.

Years ago, FiveStone met with an organization that was doing incredible work throughout the United States. The work was going so well that they wanted to branch out into other countries. 

However, to do that, they thought they needed to start a new nonprofit to serve the global market. This struck us as odd. Why not just change your strategy? Start a new division? Open an office in Tokyo?

As it turns out, the founding mission of the organization was written in such a way that it also included strategic elements. As a result, the mission was to serve only North America. They were right; it was easier for them to start a new organization than to update their charter.

Another time, we met with an organization that was finding it difficult to communicate about their work. When we dug in, we found that the organization had no real set of belief statements to tether them. Because they had not properly defined how they were going to operate, anything they wanted to say simultaneously did and did not make sense.

These two short stories exemplify something we encounter again and again — operational statements that are: 1) Intertwined, making it difficult to operate or pivot 2) Vague, making it hard to effectively manage.

What makes up an organization’s operational statements? They are a set of core beliefs that break it into five key components:

  1. Reason for Being: Why are we doing this?

  2. Vision: What will the world look like if we accomplish my mission?

  3. Mission: What do we do?

  4. Values: What are our non-negotiable behaviors?

  5. Strategy: What is unique in how we are addressing the problems outlined in the rest of the beliefs?

Since 2001 we have worked with many organizations that come to us for brand, marketing, or innovation work only to discover that their foundation is a bit shaky. When this happens it makes directional decisions about brand, strategy, audience, and new products/services difficult.

Without that strong foundation, there are no boundaries and guidelines to indicate what clearly could work and what clearly won’t work. In these situations, our job is to back up and evaluate those core beliefs so that we can have a solid foundation for moving forward.

Of course, when we work with startups we are also evaluating these foundational beliefs. We recognize that doing this work at the beginning sets the new organization up for increased clarity and focus. And, ultimately, a better chance of success.

We’ve compiled our current thinking on the core belief system, along with a few exercises, and included it in this PDF for you to use and pass along to others.