Tying Mission, Vision, & Values to a Definite Purpose

When we’ve accepted the responsibility for leading, be that of a team under our authority or an organization made up of volunteers, having a crystal-clear definite purpose and understanding that we will always need to go beyond what’s expected to achieve it is a must! But to carry this forward throughout our organizations and with the team members we lead, there will need to be just as much clarity. In most cases, this is articulated through mission and vision statements and core values - often hanging in a nice frame on the wall in the company’s main lobby and occupying the first few pages of the employee policy manual. And while I respect the intent behind this (usually), it’s all too often where things come to a grinding halt.

Cindy and I have shared a keynote presentation called Building Buy-in Around a Clear Mission & Vision with owners and executives of several hundred companies at this point where we openly challenge them to consider how they’ve been able to not just share a beautifully crafted mission or vision statement with their teams, but how they’ve been able to tie the tasks any team member performs on a daily basis back to whatever it is they have hanging in a frame or printed in a handbook. For close to twenty years, I knew where to find the mission, vision, and values that had been rolled out from the corporate office. To that end, I shared those things with new employees in their initial orientation session through more than half of those years! But if I’m being completely honest, I would have struggled to explain how anything they would be doing day to day tied back to what I shared - mainly because no one had ever given me that kind of clarity around what we were all supposed to be working to achieve.

Please don’t miss my point here, I truly believe that having a rallying cry is critical in getting folks engaged; in the for-profit world and especially in the public service arena! When we can explain what we’re working to provide through the work that we do, we paint a picture of direct and immediate results; the mission… Detailing the longer term impact we’d like our work to have on the community around us or the world as a whole casts a vision showing the importance of what we do. Our values play a key role in defining what behaviors are and are not acceptable as we work toward the mission and the vision. But let’s be honest, even those of us leading will struggle to fight a good fight if we’re unable to tie each of them to the kind of definite purpose that gets us out of bed each morning! We’ll dig into how we can do that soon enough. 

Before that though, I think it’s important that we’re on the same page about what we’re sharing as our mission, vision, or values. I’m convinced that even the most wonderfully worded statements aren’t worth the paper they’re written on if the team can’t see a connection to what they’re doing.

Dazzling Intentions with Baffling Results

I want to challenge you to really churn through this mission statement for a deep understanding of all it captures:

“Our mission is to delight our customers as the number one technology driven global manufacturer and marketer of value differentiated XYZ products and services. We will strengthen our leadership position through a shared-value culture of employee involvement where an intense focus on continuous improvement delivers shareholder value in everything we do.”

While somewhat sanitized to protect the (not so) innocent, I’ve always thought it had some powerful phrases and paints an extremely lofty picture of how that organization viewed the work being done, I’d have a tough time tying this back to any definite purpose.

Here’s where you may be saying, “You’re not too smart anyway, Wes. All those fancy words are just over your head.” And you’d be correct! Quite frankly, the reason Cindy and I build some aspect of the DISC Model of Human Behavior into nearly everything we do - after completing just about every kind of personality, behavioral, temperament, or any other assessment you can imagine - has been due to it being incredibly simple to understand and just as simple to share with anyone we’re working with. I always get a kick out of the dude sharing the latest and greatest gadget that’s just like DISC, only better, but is so stinking complicated that you can’t take action on it… Fancy is fine and good if we’re buying a luxury car, but I need the tools I’m counting on for results to be simple enough for me to actually understand how they work!

That brings us back to the mission statement above. Each time I read through it, this saying from the late W.C. Fields comes to mind, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull shit.” I mean, really, what does value differentiated even mean?

With that in mind, consider this more concise mission statement - and how your daily behaviors could exemplify it:

“Delivering customer satisfaction with empowered employees using continuous improvement to get it right the first time, every time.”

It’s certainly shorter but there’s still quite a bit of baffling going on if you ask me! I’d be willing to bet that you could ask twenty different people within that organization to define “delivering customer satisfaction” or “empowered employees” and get twenty different answers for each. But before you accuse me of bashing a specific company, I’ll ask you how true that same thing would be in nearly any organization you’ve ever been a part of…

Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying, “Well done is better than well said.” When it comes to an organization’s mission, vision, or values, I believe that’s painfully accurate. Unfortunately, that’s not what we usually see - is it? Far too often, we see masterfully crafted statements hung in expensive frames that just don’t connect with any kind of definite purpose and therefore, can’t be upheld in a way that gains measurable traction. Before we can treat the symptoms, though, we need to come to terms with the cause.

Disconnected from Everyone Involved

Make no mistake, I’ve seen some incredibly eloquent verbiage used in defining companies’ missions, visions, and values. But I’ve rarely seen the people in an organization rally around all that eloquence in a way produces. Even when the results seem to match the mission and vision, it’s far more likely due to folks just flat out working than because they were wow’ed by the wonderful words hanging in the lobby. All too often, the mission, vision, and values that are articulated so beautifully on paper get little coverage through conversation. And even when they’re shared verbally, it tends to be through a big-picture approach in large group settings. I once heard a gentleman say that he “wanted less sizzle and more steak!” I believe that applies quite well here…

At this point, I don’t have a ton of time to do much work in the safety and human resource space; and as I shared before, it’s usually so far out of line with my purpose that it drains my energy when I do. That said, I vividly remember the last employee handbook I helped create. Believe it or not, the reason this memory is so clear is because of the impact I saw it have on the team members of that company when I helped the owners roll it out.

Here’s where you’re likely thinking that I’ve bumped my head - and I can’t say I blame you! In all the years I did employee orientation, I openly told the folks coming into whatever organization I was with that about eighty percent of the handbook I was issuing them was crap the gubermint required and only about twenty percent was information they’d ever need to pay attention to. That had always been painfully accurate - until this last experience!

The company I was working with had been in business for over 75 years but had recently changed ownership. While it had been very successful, there wasn’t a lot of formality in place. I’m not a fan of intense formality but I’ve come to terms with the fact that we have nearly ten times more attorneys than we have plumbers so there is indeed a need to have our crap together when running a business. In this case, we still kept all the necessary legal mumbo-jumbo in place but the new owners were adamant that anything else we included must tie directly to at least one of the five core values they had defined for the team when they took over just a few months prior.

That alone was an interesting take on defining the work rules, paid time off policies, and so many other things that are covered in a handbook. Truth be told, it ended up being quite a bit shorter than any other handbook I had ever put together. When I met with everyone in the organization, in small groups, nearly every single individual THANKED me for helping create the handbook. I thought I was being punked!!! In a best case scenario, people tolerated those kinds of meetings. More often than not though, you could cut the tension with a knife. I wasn’t quite sure what had happened this time, but it was a world apart from what I expected.

As I dug in, I realized that those five values we listed at the beginning of the handbook were what the owners had been talking about with everyone on the team, every single day; in group meetings, one-on-one, and in nearly every customer interaction. Not only did each team member know what those values were, they had a clear understanding of what it looked like to live out those behaviors through the work they did. And because of this, they didn’t view the handbook as a punitive tool created to restrict what they could or couldn’t do. They saw it as something that provided continuity across the board. One of the most senior team members was actually in tears as he explained how much he enjoyed working with the new owners, primarily because of how they lived by those values!

 As amazing as this experience was in that particular organization, it proved everything Cindy and I cover in our keynote session on Building Buy-In Around a Clear Mission & Vision - with the core tenant being clear… I’m convinced that even the fanciest words make little difference if our teams can’t connect what they do to how the organization achieves the mission or vision, or lives out the stated values. Removing the disconnect for everyone involved can produce powerful results, but when we’re willing to put a little purpose in the mix we might just earn an even bigger chunk of that fifty-seven percent improved discretionary effort I’ve referenced a few times on this topic and throughout What’s KILLING Your Profitability? (It ALL Boils Down to Leadership!). With that in mind, I think you can probably guess what will start digging into soon…