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Posted on Jun 15, 2018

A Simple Yet Powerful Way to Look at Vision-Mission-Values

A Simple Yet Powerful Way to Look at Vision-Mission-Values

For some strange reason, business leaders tend to find the process of creating a meaningful vision and relevant mission straightforward, and even enjoyable. But identifying values to keep the organization focused is often treated like an afterthought: “Oh yeah, I guess we need to have some of those too.” It feels as if this part of the process is viewed like a necessary evil. Efforts applied to selecting values are often disingenuous. Yet, I’ve discovered this to be the most critical part.

Without the right values, it’s almost impossible for an organization to achieve its vision and stay true to its mission.

A Powerful Analogy

Here’s a simple, yet powerful analogy I like to use to describe the three parts of Vision-Mission-Values:

  • 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 you to the vision.
  • Values are the rumble strips along the edges of the road. They keep everyone alert to ensure they stay on the road.

Using this analogy, it’s not hard to imagine why business leaders love to focus on vision and mission. It’s their passion. They can see the goal. They can see the road. They often wonder why everyone else can’t see these things too. Yet they know it’s not 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 slightly (which happens more often than they’d like).

The reason leaders need values is to address the biggest issue: people.

The People Issue

Of course it’s not easy to get everyone to see the same vision and understand the mission. Everyone is different. They come from different backgrounds, different upbringings, have different viewpoints, and joined the business for different reasons (aside from getting a paycheck). They possess different passions, engage in different pursuits, and have different priorities. No wonder there is conflict at work. Sometimes, it’s amazing that a business can achieve anything.

It’s not that employees can’t understand the vision and mission. Most eventually do. But the vision and mission are often viewed as belonging to the business owners or senior leaders. Employees are just along for the ride. They support the direction and follow the path because they’re told to. It’s the same reason they park their vehicle where they’re told; show up at the time they’re told; and work at the station where they’re told.

But when it comes to individual decision-making and taking action, it’s not surprising that employees tend to “wander” off the path. When someone hits a roadblock, it seems logical to simply find a way around it, even if that means taking a slight off-road detour through unsafe territory.

For example, if you see a quality problem in your product, just leave the production line going while you look for a solution. If a co-worker isn’t agreeing with your viewpoint, just ignore them and find someone else who will help you. If your regular supplier can’t deliver what you want, just engage another one because they’re all the same, right?

At one company, product quality may not be a big issue as the real desired output is ideas. Here, what’s valued most is creativity and respect.

At another company, teamwork might almost be considered irrelevant because most employees work alone. In this case, accuracy and responsibility matters most.

The “rumble strips” needed for good decision-making and to guide behavior are different for every business. To keep the business on the road (mission) and to reach the desired goal (vision), leaders need to ensure they have the right set of rumble strips (values) along the edges of the road.