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Values, Vision, & Mission

by Katherine Hunter on Thursday, April 25, 2013 1:58 PM

Setting direction for an organization, department, or group is vital to keeping everyone aligned. However, most companies unknowingly go about this process backwards. The title of this article may sound odd and, if so, it says a lot about the standard sequencing that rolls so easily off the tongue: mission, vision, values. The order IS important and here is why …

We need to begin with some definitions. A company’s Mission statement defines how they want to be present in the world – how they show up to the tasks at hand. Vision defines where the company is headed, and Values are statements of what is important and why the company is headed in the direction it is going. While most companies manage to produce some type of mission and vision statement, only a subset of these firms give much thought to their core values no less make them an integral part of the process of defining their Mission/Vision.

The reason this is backwards is that an organization can’t be clear about how it wants to be in the world (Mission) if it doesn’t know why they are going there (Values) or where they are headed (Vision). 

How is your organization doing? Getting the thought process backwards shows up in very predictable ways. Some of these are:

    • Multiple mission statements
    • No one remembers it
    • Direction of the month club
    • The mission statement never feels authentic or unique

Let me share an experience. I was working at a large multi-site defense contractor whose management team had painfully struggled to craft a Mission/Vision statement as part of a mandated Lean Transformation. Directors and above struggled, debated, and carefully chose each word. It was a process that took several months to complete. When the final version was polished, posters were printed and hung throughout the plant for all to see. The statement was long and included a litany of descriptive words like excellent, vendor of choice, quality, and industry leader. The leadership team was comprised of some really smart people who worked really hard to make something meaningful. Even so, they still managed to craft a statement that, to their surprise and great disappointment, fell flat.

When employees were asked to memorize the Mission/Vision statement, you would have thought you had asked them to recite the periodic table from chemistry class – lots of blank stares. I asked one of the managers in the quality department what he thought about the new statement. Putting a finger in the air to signal for me to wait, he rummaged through a stack of laminated cards stuffed into the back of his badge holder. On the table before me he spread five versions of the company Mission/Vision statements that he had collected during his time there. “Which one are we talking about now?” he asked. We both had a good laugh because, despite the best of intentions, the current and previous four versions all sounded the same.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be the best at what you do. To aim for anything else seems pretty silly. The problem is that “we want to be the best” as a mission statement is not operational. How you craft the Mission Statement is as important as what it says.

To get to the core of the problem we must look first to the Values of the organization. To articulate, discuss, and debate about the group values is to discern what is most important. Identifying the Values defines why one choice is favored over another thereby providing overall clarity and alignment. A clear definition of what is meaningful for the organization provides the North Star that allows staff to make the conscious choice to align. A company that values individual achievement will make different choices than one that places a higher value on collaboration and group process. Knowing that in advance makes working in the environment more productive and rewarding for everyone.

Once the organization has identified what is important, what is the greatest Vision this organizations has for these Values in the world? How is the world going to be a better place because of what you do? The key to crafting a good Vision statement isn’t making it achievable; the key to a good Vision statement is to make it inspiring. The function of the Vision is to define the organization’s purpose.

With Values and the Vision clearly articulated, it is time to focus on how the organization will bring that Vision forth. The Mission of the organization defines how it will use its Values to fulfill its Vision. The best Mission statement is one sentence that everyone can remember:

Because we value _________, _______, and ______ (Values) we do _____ (Mission), so that ______ (Vision).

Can you fill in the blanks for your organization? How would your coworkers fill in the blanks? If you need help, just call.

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Katherine Hunter

Katherine has completed three advanced degrees in human behavior including a doctorate in Transformational Psychology. She is passionate about transformation: transformation of business, company culture and individuals. Katherine believes that the success of an organization is directly proportional to the passion of the individuals to make a difference and works with clients to leverage teamwork and collaboration as key components of sustainable performance.

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