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Vision, Mission & Values: Yes, They Still Matter

Sometimes we can be too clever and in the process lose sight of what it is we are trying to achieve.

Sometimes we can be too clever and in the process lose sight of what it is we are trying to achieve.

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Such is the case with vision, mission and values statements. Every organization needs to have one but in trying to craft one we sometimes over shoot the mark and end up writing statements that are so grandiose they seem as if they were crafted by NASA and polished by Mother Theresa – so daring and so caring!

Here’s a test. If you cannot read vision, mission and values aloud with a straight face, you need to revise. [Remember, Enron’s mission statement reads like an ode to the dignity of man; the words were high falutin’ but meant nothing.]

Cynicism aside, the reason organizations need vision, mission and values statements is because they create a sense of organizational purpose as well as continuity in thought, word and deed. Toward that end, here are three ways to define them.

Vision is where you want to go. Vision is an act of becoming. It is intended to be aspirational. Take a cardiac care center. A vision might state that the center is to become the cardiac care center of choice for its region. To a center of choice, you need to create conditions where physicians want to refer, where cardiac specialists want to work, and where patients want to be treated.

Mission is what you do to get there. Mission is the work that your organization performs. To deliver on the care and choice aspirations, you continue to do what you do best: deliver superior cardiac care through diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care and prevention. You do it with a commitment to patient wellness and community need.

Values are what hold you together. Your values are your belief system. They define organizational purpose as well as individual conduct. For example, a cardiac center serves its community. It must communicate its values through words and behaviors. For example, it could say: We treat our patients as we would treat our friends and family. Likewise you reinforce that commitment with values employees must demonstrate toward each other. In other words, we cannot be treating patients well if we don’t treat employees similarly.

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From vision, mission and values, you develop your strategies. These are the goals you set to achieve vision and mission. For example, to be number one in cardiac care you will need to recruit more cardiologists, provide improved training for nurses and staff, and improve outpatient facilities. From here flow your tactics, that is, what specific actions you will take related to care, recruitment, training, operations, and the like.

Clearly defined vision, mission and values also can provide an additional benefit. It can help you instill accountability. If you have values concerning behavior, then when someone steps out of line, you can call their attention to the inconsistency. That is, we don’t tolerate that kind of behavior here. Simple, yes! And that’s the beauty of it. You have instilled values and you hold people accountable for living up to them.  Conformity to values is critical because it becomes the platform upon which you ensure that people strive toward the vision and work at the mission; that is, people pull together.

Organizations that are successful in this regard integrate their values into performance objectives. That way employees know more than what they are supposed to do; they know how they are supposed to do it with respect for ideas, dignity for colleagues and trust in the system. And when those things are not in sync, you work to fix it.

Vision. Mission. Values. Three words that can help keep people focused on what needs doing as well as mindful of how they do it.

Thank you to my colleague Kathy Macdonald of the Macdonald Group for helping me to think through this essay.

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John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership development consultant, executive coach, author, and speaker. In 2009, Top Leadership Gurus named John one of the world’s top 25 leadership experts. John’s newest book is Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up (Amacom 2009). Readers are welcome to visit John’s website, www.johnbaldoni.com

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