One of the most important elements an organization can be aligned on is their mission, vision and values about the company. These components are essential and powerful drivers for the exec team to efficiently achieve the success they want. They are also the key to having a highly engaged culture of team members who say "Thank God It’s Monday!"
Many companies don’t really think this is important to have these or have them nailed down. But that’s primarily because of one major flaw in the use of these terms. That one flaw is the integrity that runs behind the concepts of the mission, vision and values statements.
Often there is a lot of misunderstanding about these words, mission, vision and values. And there are a lot of definitions out there.
I happen to like the Peter Senge definitions – who is most well known as the author of The Fifth Discipline, but was also the director for the Center for Organizational Learning at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
He coined the phrase, “The Learning Organization.” A learning organization is the term given to a company that facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself.
We start with the assumption that we all want to be effective with our company, both within the company and within ourselves within the company. And let’s call effective as creating the results we want long term and sustainably. History in organizations has shown that to be effective we need to be clear about the mission, vision and values.
So let’s use the Peter Senge definitions of these words:
In his world view – the word mission means the “why.” Why are we in business? Why are we doing what we do here? Why does this company exist? What’s the purpose for us existing?
Example: Mission for a company providing private student loans: We believe every child has the right to receive a higher education that is financed in a manner that is fairly priced and accessible to all.
On the other hand – vision is a little different. A vision is a picture of what you want as far out on the horizon as you can see. And usually this is three to five years – in a company or with a person. And as you get closer you revise. It is important that it be long-term enough to make decisions.
Example: Vision for a company providing private student loans: By 2020 we will have enabled 50 million students to receive a higher education.
Values have to do with standards of behavior that you say yes or no to. You want the vision to happen in service of the mission – but there are some things that are important to you, some guidelines of behavior that you are not going to compromise, regardless.
We believe people may not be able to become profoundly aligned with other people, but they can and will become profoundly aligned with a potent mission, vision, and values.
A wonderful example of a corporate vision and values is Johnson and Johnson’s credo. For over 10 years I have used this example in training and presenting to businesses and organizations. It is a beautifully designed values document that stresses the importance of the behavioral alignment with the values.
Let's drill down:
Mission Drill Down
Let’s start the discussion with answering any of these questions:
- Why are we here as a company?
- Why do we exist?
- What are we going to source that will not have existed without us being here?
- What are we going to make happen because we exist?
Now you have your mission statement – this can continue to refine over time – but this is a starting place.
Vision Drill Down
Let’s talk about the Vision of the company. If we stick with our original definition that the vision is a clear picture you can see of the company as far out as you can see on the horizon – which is likely 3-5 years from now. What’s the clear picture you see of the company?
Vision can be asked in that way – or we can ask ourselves in the opposite way to start to get our vision – what are we willing to give up to have alignment on what the future looks like. Often having a clear vision is challenging, because we look at what we want only – however, we know that from our lives, often what we want and what we end up with can be different. Mostly that difference is the summation of our behaviors and actions along the way. So, it can be very valuable for us to both consider what we want, and what we are willing to give up or sacrifice at the company in order to have a complete picture about the future.
Vision is often thought of as results – we want to be worth X amount of money. But again – let’s put those Visions aside, because, that is not a Vision that is going to move everyone through the organization. Remember we are talking about a company vision. We are looking for a vision that people in the company from the top to the bottom can get behind.
And perhaps the best question we can ask is:
Who are we becoming as a company in three to five years?
- What will we be known for, or known as in the community then as a company?
- What will we be proud to say we are as an identity in the business community when we arrive?
- What are some visions of what you see the company looking like three to five years from now?
Values Drill Down
Values can be pretty cliché – most companies are working off of similar values. And it is not the words; it is how we demonstrate them at the company. They are going to be behaviors you agree to live by and align with on a daily basis when you walk through the front doors of the business. Words that you are going to live and show by example.
Choosing the values of the company is to say – “I believe strongly that these will demonstrate the most important behaviors to us as a culture.” It is making a commitment to the kind of company you wish to be.
A good way to think about this is – if you woke up every day and had certain words or phrases posted in your shower, as a reminder about the most important things to you in life – in terms of values – what would those be?
- Mission – Your purpose – what’s the big why? Is it worthy and emotional?
- Vision - a picture of what you want – clear picture? Is it compelling? Martin Luther King didn’t just have a simple idea. He had a dream so infused with passion and meaning that others wanted to be a part of it.
- Values - the standards of behavior – integrity, open communication, team work, etc. – that we are expected to honor as a member of the tribe.
When all three components are clear, you will be amazed at how engaged your culture will become.
Is it time to take a look at your company’s mission, vision and values?
Christine Comaford of SmartTribes Institute applies the latest neuroscience research to help companies build vibrant engaged culture, rich and committed leadership, consistently compelling sales and marketing.