By Andrew Yenchik
I worked as an intern at USAA this past summer. USAA is a Fortune 500 company that offers financial services – banking, insurance, and investments – to persons and families that have served or who are currently serving in the US Military. Part of my worked focused on creating and developing USAA’s social media strategy. The majority of my work centered on aligning the social media strategy and tactics with the overall goals and direction of USAA. I think USAA is a picture-perfect example Strategy Hierarchy as explained in Collis and Rukstad’s article “Can You Say What Your Strategy Is?”1
USAA follows the hierarchy of Mission, Values, Vision, and then Strategy. Fortunately, through a unique company culture, I can recite each of the first three from memory.
Mission: USAA's mission is to facilitate the financial security of its members, associates, and their families through provision of a full range of highly competitive financial products and services; in so doing, USAA seeks to be the provider of choice for the military community.
Values: Service, Loyalty, Honesty, and Integrity.
Vision: USAA seeks to be the provider of choice for the military community. USAA will go above for those that have gone beyond. We know what it means to serve.
Why do I remember these? Because USAA takes special care to assure that each employee understands the Mission, Values, and Vision. Further – beyond a rote understanding – USAA encourages and promotes adherence to and application of these statements and standards. Every meeting and slide deck at USAA begins with the Mission or Values. Each USAA employee knows that it is more important to be honest or to focus on the military member and their family rather than profit margins and timetables. I like the following statement from the ETB blog:
“No matter what it says in corporate employee manuals or annual reports, consumers know the mission of most companies: Make money for shareholders. It should not be surprising that this mission fails to motivate affinity and advocacy. Some companies, however, live by a higher calling. Apple, Google, Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart all stand for something. They might not appeal to you specifically (see prior bullet point), but these companies believe they have a mission beyond selling products. USAA has a mission, and it's not just on its website. This mission is the first slide in virtually every deck I saw as an employee. USAA's CEO begins every Board meeting by reading it aloud. Employees can recite it. And I've seen ideas killed when someone asks, "Does this fit our mission?" USAA's mission is a way of life, and USAA members know this. It's why USAA has the highest Net Promoter Score of any company in America.”2
If a company wants to impact their direction and employees, there is no better way to do so than through a powerful, succinct, and followed Mission, Values, and Vision. Such have impacted USAA – not only do they have the highest Net Promoter Score of any company in America, they also boast the highest possible ratings from all three major rating agencies: A++ (Superior) from A.M. Best Co., highest of 16 possible ratings; Aaa (Exceptional) from Moody's Investors Service, highest of 21 possible ratings; AA+ (Very Strong) from Standard & Poor's, second highest of 21 possible ratings.3
This powerful mix of Misson, Vision, and Values drove the work I did on the social media strategy and throughout the company. Decisions and direction were made based on them. Tough questions and close calls melted into easy choices. The actual Strategy – the Objective, Scope and Advantage – fell into place. While I can’t share all the details of the social media strategy, here is the basic outline of what I worked on:
Do The Other Stuff Right: Having a nice Facebook page isn’t enough. The best social strategy is based on operational excellence, high customer satisfaction, and sound financial strength. Let’s do it right and then boast about it.
Hire Right: Social media wants people who are passionate about USAA, the Mission, and the member. If those requirements are met, then social media looks for those with passion, skills, and experience in social media. Continually teach and train each other on the latest, newest, and most impactful technologies and platforms.
Focus on the Member: Sharpen the messege and focus to the member. Reverse the natural tendency to create something fun and exciting and hope members will come. Instead, participate in and support existing social communities. Be where members want you to be. Be present and active in all social channels that members utilize.
Find the Right Member: Social media is a key place to find new customers. Keep the message consistent and true to the Mission, Values, and Vision. Find those with similar needs, attitudes, and desires.2
This social media strategy is not that different from other strategies at USAA. Banking, insurance, wealth management, and all other business units develop and follow similar, specific strategies. The combination of these well-defined and well-executed strategies has led to USAA finding and expanding a strategic sweet spot. Many, many competitors exist in the global financial services space. USAA has such a strong position because their capabilities (serving the military member with high quality financial products and services wherever they are) overlay perfectly with their customers needs (to be served 24x7x365 from any country in the world, with family and children at home, and where security and affordability are paramount). USAA could easily expand its membership to allow anyone to sign-up. Instead, USAA sticks to this sweet spot and sets it strategies to maintain this position.
Reviewing USAA’s Mission, Values, and Vision make me feel that any company should be able to easily replicate it. Further, I feel that any company should be able to set their Mission, Values, Vision, and Strategy fairly easily. However, this is clearly not the case. Even rigorous strategic planning processes, big data discoveries, and hiring the right executives don’t guarantee the right mix. Can you think of another company like USAA that is seeing soaring success through a great blend of Mission, Values, Vision, and Strategy?
Or even more exciting: can you think of a company that is uber-successful and does not have a Mission, Values, Vision, and Strategy according to the Harvard reading? Are there companies that are breaking the mold and bucking the trend?
1. Collis and Rukstad, “Can You Say What Your Strategy Is?” HBR April 2008.