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Posted on Jun 2, 2017

What Matters More: Vision, Mission, or Values?

What Matters More: Vision, Mission, or Values?

Business leaders tend to find it fairly easy and even enjoyable to tackle the task of creating a meaningful vision and relevant mission. But identifying values to keep the organization focused and on track is often treated like an afterthought, “Oh yeah, I guess we need to have some of those too.” Often this part of the process is viewed like a necessary evil, instead of the third critical part.

I propose the following:

Without the right set of values, vision and mission are irrelevant.

To explain my rationale for this statement, consider the following simple analogy:

  • Vision is the horizon (like the sun setting behind the mountains). It outlines where the business is headed and desired goal.
  • Mission is the road (and rarely a straight one). It defines the path that leads to the vision.
  • Values are the rumble strips or guardrails along the edges of the road. They keep everyone alert to ensure they stay on the road.

To keep the business on the road (mission) and to reach the desired goal (vision), leaders need to ensure they have installed rumble strips and guardrails (values) along the edge of the road. Without such protection, daily decision-making and even normal employee behaviors can easily cause parts of the business to wander off the road. Worst case, the entire organization suddenly finds itself in a deep ditch that costs money, time, and precious resources to fix and get back on track.

A Leadership Challenge

Based on the above analogy, it’s not hard to imagine why business leaders love to focus on vision and mission. It’s their passion, and it’s fun. They can clearly see the goal. They can see the road. They often wonder why everyone else can’t see these things too.

Yet leaders know it’s not immediately obvious to everyone. So they talk a lot about the vision and mission. And they talk some more. And then some more. And they keep talking about where the business is headed and the pathway to get there, especially when the path changes (which happens more often than they’d like). But the values are rarely explained with any depth.

It’s not easy to get all employees to see the same vision and appreciate the mission. Leaders know that not everyone completely gets it.

Effective leaders use different approaches.

People come from different backgrounds, have different upbringings, possess different viewpoints, and joined the business for different reasons (aside from getting a paycheck). They enjoy different passions, engage in different pursuits, and have different priorities. No wonder there is conflict at work. Sometime, it’s actually amazing that a business can achieve anything.

This is the role of leaders – to unite, inspire, and focus.

Ownership or Following Orders?

The problem many businesses face is that the vision and mission is viewed as something that belongs only to the business owner or senior leaders. Employees can feel they are just along for the ride. They support the direction and follow the path because they’re told to. This is the reason employees show up at the time they’re told; work at the station where they’re told, and deliver the expected output when and where they’re told.

This is especially true in large companies. But it can happen in any size of business. Until an employee personally “owns” the vision and mission, where these drive their behavior, they are simply following orders.

When it comes to individual decision-making and taking action, it’s not surprising that employees can easily find themselves “wandering” off the path (mission) and unknowingly getting into trouble.

Consider what happens when someone hits a roadblock. It’s often easier to look for a way around it than address it, even if that means taking a slight “off-road” detour through unsafe (and dangerous) areas. For example:

  • If someone sees a quality problem in a product, it’s easier to just leave the production line going while others look for a solution.
  • If a co-worker isn’t agreeing with an employee’s viewpoint, it’s easier to just ignore them and find someone else who will agree with them.
  • If a regular supplier can’t deliver in a rush timeframe, it’s easier to just engage another supplier because they’re viewed as all the same.

In such cases, having a few clearly stated values can help ensure employees know what’s most important at their company, regardless if they “own” the vision and mission or are just following orders. Values help employees make decisions and behave in such a manner that keeps the organization on the road and going in the right direction.


Does this analogy work for your business?