As we say farewell to one year and prepare to welcome the next, it’s natural for us to take stock – to think about what we want to do, who we want to be and what we truly value.
Companies would benefit from doing the same. Mission, vision and values statements, when articulated well, are powerful motivators anchoring the organizational culture. We call these three foundational components the Core Triad. They sit at the heart of your company and underpin its philosophy of being. But the opposite is also true: when these statements are vague, empty or clichéd, they serve to confuse at best, and potentially demoralize those who should be your strongest ambassadors.
Does your mission statement clearly declare why you’re in business? It shouldn’t be abstract. It shouldn’t be verbose. It should be an explicit, concise avowal of the reason your company exists.
What about your vision statement? If your mission is why you exist, then your vision is what you aspire to be, or some external state you want to help achieve. This distinction is critical for both your customers and your employees.
Even more important to your staff than your mission or vision statement is your assertion of values. It’s one thing for your people to be clear about why the company exists, or what it ultimately hopes to achieve. But it is most meaningful to them to know why the company makes the decisions it does, and this transparency is based on an understanding of the principles it seeks to uphold.
But look at most companies’ stated values, and they don’t help you comprehend very well what the company is all about – except that its values sound a lot like the ones other companies trot out. Of the clients we serve, about two-thirds exhibit overlap in their documented values. That’s because most organizations put insufficient thought into their Core Triad, and therefore default to the same handful of vague or generic principles.
As an example, the majority of companies today claim to be “customer-centric.” Well, sure. What are you if not customer-centric – customer-averse?
Most companies also express values like “integrity,” “openness and collaboration,” “a culture of innovation” and “solution orientation.” It isn’t that these values aren’t commendable. But what do they really tell us about the organization? Very little – as opposed to values that say something honest and unique about the company and how it functions.
One of our clients, for instance, lists “mental and physical fitness” as one of their central values. This communicates that they want their employees to be at the top of their game, and that they will help them get there. That’s why this company invested in a sophisticated office gym, and it’s also why their employees get penalized for staying at the office past 7:00 pm.
Another of our clients lists “chocolate” as a value. Yep, chocolate. And they’re just as fun to work for as you’d think.
A third places “common sense” as their number-one value. When we met with the CEO, he said, “Sure, we want smart people who can do pivot tables. But it means more to me to know that people can be trusted to make sound decisions in their normal, everyday work, because that’s what creates collective success in the long run.”
Here’s a good test. If a random member of your staff were at a social gathering, and someone asked her what the company does, would she be able to answer in a way that the other person would understand? If your Core Triad is clear, she should have no hesitation or difficulty explaining it, and the other person should have no problem understanding it.
If not, it may be time to take a closer look at why you’re in business, what you hope to achieve, and the values that guide you – and how you communicate this Core Triad to others.