Why visions, missions and values fail


The common mission statement or vision, supposedly the bedrock of an organisation is often nothing more than a foundation of sand. Most corporate visions are too broad to be useful and too vague to be implemented. It isn't that the vision doesn't mean anything, so much as it could mean anything. Too much is left open to interpretation and the result is our people, unsure of performance expectations, start working at cross-purposes. Where organisations have tried to go a step further by developing values statements there are often similar issues. The values are either poorly defined and open to interpretation, or they merely reflect what an organisation thinks people would like to see rather than the reality. Look at this example:

Our Values
We have an obligation to communicate. Here, we take the time to talk with one another… and to listen. We believe that information is meant to move and that information moves people.
We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment.
We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly and sincerely. When we say we will do something, we will do it; when we say we cannot or will not do something, then we won’t do it.
We are satisfied with nothing less than the very best in everything we do. We will continue to raise the bar for everyone. The great fun here will be for all of us to discover just how good we can really be.

They sound good don't they? Until, that is, you realise they are the stated values of a company you may have heard of - Enron. Do they in any way reflect the reality of that particular company? Of course not. But they are the perfect example of how values and mission statements have become nothing more than rhetoric. Now, here is a test for you.

Make a copy of your corporate values, a copy of Enron’s corporate values, and a copy of corporate value statements from a couple of other companies. Remove the company names from all documents. Take these lists to a random cross section of your employees and ask, “ Which of these corporate value statements best describes our company’s actions?” “Which least describes our company?” While you are at it also ask several suppliers and several customers.

Each time, ask each group “By the way, do you happen to recognize which – if any – of these is actually ours?” Chances are that none of your suppliers, none of your customers, and very, very few of your employees will be able to tell the difference between Enron’s corporate values, your corporate values, and the values of any other random company.

What does this mean to you?

1. Most corporate value statements are virtually indistinguishable from each other.

2. Actions are what count – not what’s on paper.

3. If there’s a disconnect between what you say is important and what people do, you need to fix that right away. Rather than building a series of rules, build a series of examples. People learn from examples and role models – not from a list of words.

It’s all about alignment. What you say you want, what you really want, and what you reward, all have to be in alignment. If not, then you are doing nothing more than trading in rhetoric and you will be undone by your actions... much like Enron.

Brett Rutledge