09/04/2014 02:27 pm ET Updated Nov 04, 2014

Do You Like Your Company's Emotion Statement?

Decision-making is colored by emotion. Some, like Sir Richard Branson, admit to this openly when they say, "I rely far more on gut instinct than researching huge amounts of statistics." Others claim great pride in quantitative assessments behind their decisions, but are just running away from the unquestionable influence of emotions on corporate decisions. The fact is that corporate leaders -- and the corporations they lead -- rely more on feelings than the data in front of them to make decisions.

This influence of emotions also percolates into how large companies choose to partner with smaller companies or startups. Early in my career, I worked for smaller companies that looked to large corporations for projects. I witnessed firsthand the excitement and confusion in these companies before high-stake engagements. Should we be bold? Should we be reverent? Should we ask questions? Should we point out mistakes? Should we admit our mistakes? These are only some of the many questions that swirl around, with no definite strategy to guide the answers.

Now that I work with a large corporation that relies on many smaller companies to perform their work, I get to sit on the other side of the table. I now see how emotions guide decisions to partner with companies. Surprisingly many companies fail to grasp, or do not want to admit, that their competitors also fulfill the technical threshold required for most projects. Provided commercial implications are similar, companies that are considered for partnerships fulfill emotional needs of these large corporations.

The idea that emotional needs of clients should be addressed exposes a gap in the corporate thinking of many smaller companies. Though these companies spend enormous amounts of time crafting Vision Statements and Mission Statements, they may not realize the impact their Emotion Statement has on their clients. Simply saying, "We don't have an Emotion Statement," is not adequate because, planned or not, a small company makes an Emotion Statement every time they engage with these large corporations. Successful engagements occur when the Emotion Statement of a small company is suited to fill the emotional needs of the large corporations.

When large corporations are evaluating potential vendors for their projects, they will lean towards the small company that feels right if the technical hurdles have been met. For example, a large corporation delivering a technically challenging project would rather work with people they feel can bounce back when things go wrong, and have the courage to give them bad news early and not sweep it under the carpet, hoping that it will go away.

What is an Emotion Statement?

Every company, through their actions, presentations, people and personality, evokes certain emotions in their clients. This feeling, which is a combination of the many things including company profile and culture, becomes a key differentiator for small companies and startups if it fulfills the emotional needs of larger corporations. Very few small companies have thought through and developed an Emotion Statement, which is a statement of how they want their (potential) clients to feel when they work or engage with them.

Unlike the Vision Statement or Mission Statement, a successful Emotion Statement is by definition outward looking and, to some extent, client specific. It requires an understanding of felt emotions in others so as to identify the correct behaviors in ourselves. It requires startups and small companies to understand the emotional needs of their potential client base and tailor their interaction with these potential clients to address those emotional needs. Finally, it requires small companies to be flexible and aware of their marketplace, tweaking their Emotion Statement to address local and global moods that affect the emotional needs of their clients. An Emotion Statement is much more dynamic and alive than either the Mission or Vision Statement.

How does a company craft a good Emotion Statement?

Crafting a good Emotion Statement takes time and effort, but it also requires companies to look outward. Small companies and startups need to understand their business landscape, the needs of their potential clients, research their prior experiences and sometimes make suppositions about their fears and inhibitions. All this is not easy but the following three step process can help small companies craft a good Emotion Statement.

Step 1: How do I want my clients to feel when they work with us?

An Emotion Statement is as much about the company as it is about their clients. Small companies and startups should spend considerable effort to understand their potential clients. They need to put themselves in the shoes of their clients to ask the question, "How do I need to feel when I meet a possible contractor for me to want to work with them?" By understanding the emotional needs of their clients and the current environment, a company can develop a list of emotions or feelings that they need to evoke during engagements with potential clients. These identified feelings are used to craft the "Emotion Statement."

Step 2: Implement the Emotion Statement

Once a startup or small company has developed an Emotion Statement, all interactions should be aligned to evoke the emotions laid out in the Emotion Statement. This begins with the company brochures -- their feel and content but also their color -- to company personnel and associations and even company presentations. Other aspects, like the kind of projects the company chooses to undertake, the type of people it hires and the office décor should, as much as possible, align with the Emotion Statement of the company.

Step 3: Seek feedback after engagements

Engagements provide avenues for companies to seek feedback on the emotions they evoke in their clients. Companies should ask specific questions related how their clients feel after engagements and compare them with the Emotion Statement that they have crafted. Companies can then change behavior or develop a different engagement strategy if there is disparity between the evoked emotions and the Emotion Statement.

If you feel that your startup or small company is good but unable to win the big contracts, maybe your company needs a good Emotion Statement. After all, the late Mary Angelou once said: "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." What she should have also said, is that this is surprisingly accurate in the corporate world, as well.