“Oo-rah!” shouted the Marines in the audience. I was one of the few civilians, among a thousand service men and women, at the recent BEYA Stars and Stripes dinner hosted by the Marine Corps in Philadelphia. The dinner takes place each year in honor of black engineers. Every time an Air Force or Navy officer won an award, the airmen and sailors cheered. Whenever an Army officer won an award, the soldiers in the room roared. But when a Marine won an award, the other Marines in the audience boomed, “Oo-rah,” which has been the Marines’ battle cry since the Korean war.
That got me thinking that not enough companies use battle cries. After all, battle cries have been used for thousands of years to unite individuals into a collective identity and to emotionally charge them up before rushing forward to accomplish their mission.
The actual words used in battle cries have varied throughout history. They might reference a diety, as in the Romans' "Deus vult" or "God wills it." They might reference a past event, as when Texan fighters cried out, “Remember the Alamo!” Or be fatalistic, like the Spanish Foreign Legions’ “Viva la Muerta,” which means long live death. Or it can be a nonsensical sound like the Marines' “Oo-rah” or the Army’s “Hooah.”
So, what kind of battle cry should a company have? What should it be based on?
Every company should have a battle cry that is based on its overarching goals. It can be your "big, hairy, audacious goal," as Jim Collins refers to it. Or it can be your most important annual metric. Regardless, your battle cry should be specific and measurable.
Creating a battle cry is one of the simplest and yet most powerful things leaders can do to increase engagement and alignment. Employee engagement—currently at record lows—is partly dependent on employees feeling confident in the future. How can they be engaged if they don’t even know what their company’s goals are, let alone how they fit in? A goal-based battle cry will keep the future vision at top of mind of all employees, and it's the first step in aligning their own goals and job actions.
An effective company battle cry should be short and memorable; it isn’t supposed to summarize your entire strategic plan. It should reflect your aspirational future. Here are a few real-world examples of battle cries from various companies.
- Coca-Cola has “2020 Vision,” reflecting their overarching goal to double servings and revenue by the year 2020.
- Ansell has “2x in 3y,” which reminds people that their goal is to double revenue in three years.
However, it doesn’t always have to be about revenue. Here is another example of a growth metric.
- Starwood Hotels has the battle cry “1500 by 2014,” which summarizes their goal to have 1500 hotels by the year 2014.
Not all battle cries need to consist of numbers, either. Here is an example of an acronym.
- Bio-Rad summarizes their strategic plan as “BIG,” which stands for achieving $5 Billion in sales, be Independent and think Globally.
If you are a fast growing small business, you should actually set a battle cry for every quarter. When I started my life-science education company, Axiom, we had “Fast Start 100” for our very first quarterly battle cry. It represented that, among all the other things any new startup needs to do, we needed to focus on reaching out to 100 companies, which we identified as our “dream clients.” We created a “Fast Start” dashboard, listing prospects and progress, and tied it to a “fast start out of the gates” horse-racing theme. We celebrated our achievement with a day at the track.
If you’re a front-line manager in a large organization and think battle cries only come from the top down, think again. Just create a battle cry yourself. Even if it is only known on your team, even if it only serves to remind you, it will be an effective way to focus on the big picture.
So are you ready to create a battle cry? Are you ready to unite your team and get an instant boost to employee engagement and alignment? Don’t put it off! Call your team together right now.
Get more tips on motivating employees.
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