I spend a lot of my time talking to company boards about the need to work more on their company vision, mission and values (VMV). It is almost impossible to have been in business over the last 20 years and not have corporate VMVs but all too often these are simply wallpaper. You will have seen them in large font on brightly coloured walls for everyone who passes by to witness the aspirations of the particular organisation whose offices you happen to be in. However, even the most garish wallpaper becomes invisible once we become used to it.
Having a clear route map is important for team unity but before you rush off to embed your vision, mission and values into the culture of your business and achieve the utopia of a team aligned to a common goal, check that your VMVs really reflect the business you have created and the direction you want to take. All too often, firms adopt brochure statements rather than actually looking for what really represents them. Simply adopting words that you think will resonate with your customers without genuinely believing in them and living them every day in your business, will produce an incongruent customer experience.
I find a scaling exercise is often useful to determine if your stated values are real values or just brochure values. Imagine you have a set of values stated on your website. Take one of these values, let’s for example say it is honesty. Then ask yourself, when was the last time that you can remember, that you did something that breached this value. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Just when was the last time you remember. Now, consider on a scale of 1-10 how serious a breach it was. Keeping with the example, let’s say it was a level 4 breach.
The next question to ask is, do you feel bad about it?
When we breach something that is genuinely one of our values, we tend to feel one of two emotions. If the breach isn’t noticed by anyone, if we don’t get caught, then we may feel guilt. If the breach is noticed by someone else, and particularly someone whose opinion we value, we are likely to feel shame.
So, if you have rated your lack of honesty in the scenario in question as a level 4, what level is your feeling of guilt or shame? If the level of feeling it is equal to, or higher than 4, then honesty is probably one of your core values as your reaction is proportionate to the level of the breach. If you feel little or no reaction to the breach, then I would consider that honesty is actually a brochure value and not one to put front and centre on your website.
Your corporate values should be the red lines that you will not cross. They provide the moral compass. Often vision and mission can be confused. I like to define the vision as the long-term goals of an organisation and the mission as what you do whilst working towards the long-term goals.
To make a real impact VMVs need to be embedded in every aspect of the business and referenced whenever a decision is made, or goal is set. Every member of a team should be able to hold their decision making to account by asking, “Is the action we are considering aligned with our vision, mission or values?”
A clear set of values, supporting the vision and mission and communicated clearly give a team a common sense of purpose. However, this isn’t just useful for teams. Sole traders can benefit from clear VMVs also by using them during the decision-making process as a proxy non-executive director. Asking, “Is this aligned with my VMV?” keeps you on track.
So, if you like the wallpaper you have and you can live up to it, that’s great. If not, maybe it’s time for a change.