"What's it all about?" Trivia buffs know that those were lyrics to a 1966 pop song and film theme by Dionne Warwick. But astute business leaders also know that this is a question every company needs to be asking, on a regular basis.
Who are we? What is our vision? What is our mission? What are our key values? These are all fundamental building blocks in the foundation of a successful and sustainable business enterprise.
And that is why the leaders at Flanagan Foodservice have devoted literally months of their time to formulating the answers to these questions, answers that marry the family traditions of the company with the corporate strengths of Flanagan's and the business environment of today, and tomorrow.
The company unveiled a new vision statement, a new mission statement, a new statement of values, a new tag line, and even a new logo, all at a major company event on Saturday, October 20.
Every word in the new statements has been carefully considered, and Flanagan President Dan Flanagan explained why each single word matters. The same applies to the new logo - a stylized shamrock, reflecting the historic company brand, but cleverly drawn to also represent the roadways Flanagan's trucks follow as they deliver goods - and more importantly, service - to Flanagan customers across the province and beyond.
The vision statement is clear and bold.
"Our vision is to be recognized as the premier distributor to foodservice operators in Ontario. Through our contribution to each customer's success, their guests enjoy a great dining experience."
There is no doubt that the Flanagan organization recognizes the importance of the company team members. That's reflected right off the top in the mission statement:
"Great people unified in providing distribution solutions that meet our customers' unique needs by delivering superior service, value and flexibility."
The values statement includes five specific values, each integral to the existence of Flanagan Foodservice:
None of these very significant statements were arrived at easily. They all represent something far more than words on paper - these are the vision, the mission and the values that will lie at the heart of Flanagan's; they capture the essence of this company.
Dan explains that the process that has produced these statements of essential corporate reality began almost two years ago, with a strategic planning initiative undertaken with the help of PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
The reason for the project is simply explained; Dan says, "The business has grown so much over the years. It's much more complex. It's not possible to manage the same way, any more."
He admits, in fact, that the company has shied away from doing strategic planning, because there are too many of these kinds of plans that fail to produce the desired results, but recent growth - and the stated corporate intention to foster more growth - dictated the need for the process.
The company's leadership team first spent two days on retreat with strategic planning consultants, which resulted in a list of strategic initiatives and priorities, to be carried out over the next five years.
That session sparked ongoing study, consultation, debate, and meticulous examination of every aspect of the company.
Dan says that the process has been "a tremendous amount of work by people who are already busy doing their jobs. The last year and a half has meant a lot of work... but it's all been good."
What made for even more work than originally planned was that Flanagan's brought in a specialist to craft the vision and mission statements; the company's leaders looked at the recommendation... "and we threw it out," says the president. It was decided that Flanagan leaders were closer and more committed to the company than any outside consultant, and so, "we needed to deal with this ourselves."
The process? "We argued, we fought, we threw out options... until we all agreed. It took longer than we thought it would, but this is the kind of thing where you want to do it right."
While the unveiling of the vision, mission and values took place this month, Dan says much is already underway. "The strategic plan is already going in all kinds of different directions," such as a renewed emphasis on marketing, as well as a greater focus on training and performance.
Dan insists that every word in each statement matters, a great deal. The leaders who formulated the document struggled over every one until they got it right for Flanagan's, in their shared opinion.
He highlights some of the concepts embedded in the vision statement, for example. The statement reads: "Our vision is to be recognized as the premier distributor to foodservice operators in Ontario. Through our contribution to each customer's success, their guests enjoy a great dining experience." Dan starts to walk through the wordsmithing:
"Recognized" demonstrates the fact that "part of our strategic plan is to grow at an accelerated pace. We need to go into some regions where we don't currently do a lot of business... the GTA, Niagara, Hamilton. We've never really had a lot of success in developing our business in these areas." To gain a foothold there, the company needs to have a higher level of recognition. "It has become really important to become recognized."
"Premier": this word, says Dan, "really means something different to every one of our customers, but we want to be their most valued distributor, not the biggest, but the best in their minds."
"Ontario": Flanagan's does have customers outside the province, especially in Québec, and is not turning its back on them, but Dan says, "We want to be the premier foodservice distributor in Ontario." He adds, with a smile, "for now... opportunities may occur to grow beyond that." "Our contribution": "We want our customers to be successful. It's our part of their success when we can have an influence."
"Each customer": Dan says, "every customer has unique needs. We don't want to treat every customer the same; we need to be flexible."
Dan notes that the leaders who developed the plan and the statements spent time "thinking beyond what we do, trying to put ourselves in the client's shoes. Asking, 'what would that mean to you?'"
The mission statement starts with the living, breathing members of the Flanagan team. Dan says, "We wanted our mission to start with 'great people' because we think that's really the most important part of what we have to offer. We want to empower everyone here to aspire to be great, and to do great things for our customers."
And that is evident from word one in the mission statement: "Great people unified in providing distribution solutions that meet our customers' unique needs by delivering superior service, value and flexibility."
Dan parses the potential in this statement, as well.
"Unified," he says, "refers to working together for a common goal and not for our individual needs and wants."
"Customers' unique needs" is included "because we have to understand what's important to them and what we can do to help them."
And he explains why "service" comes first in the list that completes the statement: "Service is the most important thing we do, so we put it first. It's our service, not the lowest price, that is going to differentiate us and help us to succeed as a company because we're helping the customer."
He reflected on the implications of the word "value": "We're not necessarily the cheapest, but we want our clients to know the price they're being charged is worthwhile in terms of what they get from us." He says that the quality of Flanagan's delivery and sales people, for instance, is one well-recognized "value-added" component of the benefits clients receive.
Dan says that "flexibility" found its way into the mission statement because of the response of Flanagan's customers. "It was a really interesting observation that came out of this process. We interviewed some customers; what clearly came out is we are more agile and responsive, we can make things happen where our competitors cannot."
All of the work done on vision, mission and values statements has resulted in one additional change: the corporate tag line. The motto, "Continually Growing to Serve You" has been the company's catch-phrase for three decades. The leadership team felt it was time for a change, and an internal contest was held to garner suggestions.
"We got hundreds of submissions," says Dan, which produced "some really good stuff."
A team of seven of the managers at Flanagan's sifted through the entries, reducing them to 21, then 13, then nine, then five.
Finally, the team whittled the options down to three... and chose them all, in a sense, producing a hybrid of the three winning tag lines, for the new Flanagan phrase, "The Difference You Deserve."
The President says that customers, suppliers and employees all comment continually about the positive differences in Flanagan's. So the line captures that, but subtly manages to incorporate the key word, "serve".
All of this work—and the not insignificant expenses involved in rebranding on this scale—is not simply for PR purposes. The new clarity of vision allows the company to be very clear in its approach to the market, a key growth strategy.
And equally importantly, Dan says that as all the employees start to live out the mission, the vision, and the values, Flanagan's becomes a "very exciting" place to be, the go-to business for "superior service, value and flexibility."
Written by Paul Knowles
Photography by Bryn Gladding