Vision, Values, and Mission: Well Lived Trumps Well Written

Vision, Values, and Mission: Well Lived Trumps Well WrittenIn preparation for an offsite executive team retreat, the executive organizing the session sent me a draft of the mission and vision statements “we’ve been struggling with.” She included earlier versions and iterations of each statement. She was especially frustrated and confused by the overlap of the two. She was looking for my help to “get it right.”

This is a big trap. There is no “right statement.” Vision, values, and mission statements have a wide variety of styles and approaches. What works best for an organization is highly dependent on the culture the executive team wants to build and what steps company leaders are prepared to take in bringing all this to life.

Way too many organizations confuse debating and developing a vision, values, and mission statement with actually living them. Read more about that in my blog post “Beware the Vision and Mission Statement Trap of Wordsmithing Hell“.

We’ve developed three key questions to cut through the wordsmithing and “vernacular engineering debate” on definitions of Vision, Values, and Purpose/Mission. You can read about these at “Three Core Questions That Define Organizational Culture“. We call this Focus and Context. It’s at the core of our leadership and organization development models Transformation Pathways and Timeless Leadership Principles. You can read lots more on Focus and Context at Organizational Vision, Values, and Purpose blog posts and Vision, Values, and Purpose articles and book excerpts.

My Leading a Peak Performance Culture archived webcast summarizes decades of our experiences and approaches to leadership and culture development. Scroll down this page for links to more material on what’s touched on in the webcast:

  • Defining Culture and Its Impact
  • Fatal Five Failure Factors
  • Culture Transformation Pathways
  • Key Implementation Steps

At the very bottom of this page is a follow up webinar on our leadership and culture development services. It’s centered around our five Key Implementation Steps featuring a customized Executive Retreat as central to the whole process. The other steps are options before or after the retreat. The basic outline we customize from is at Management Team Retreats. The Retreat Agenda Menu there (point #4) provides an overview of the general flow and topic areas we’d customize further.

Part of the “proposed mission statement” this executive sent me looked like it had three core values embedded in it. And there did seem to be confusion between or with parts of the mission and vision statements.

This is not unusual. And it’s exactly why executive teams need to get offsite for a few days to hash out these issues. Too often executive teams delegate the crafting of a carefully worded vision/values/mission statement to a sub-group or staff support professional. This is a major mistake and misunderstanding of the entire process.

Vision, values, and mission need to reflect the executive team’s bone-deep beliefs, passions, and goals. That’s why it’s absolutely vital for the team to vigorously debate them. What kind of people do we want to hire, promote, reward, or fire? Ultimately it’s behavior — not words — that establish an organization’s culture.

Jack and Suzy Welch summarize it so powerfully in their pithy Fortune column Goldman Sachs and a Culture-Killing Lesson Being Ignored:

” … we’re talking about a problem that exists well beyond the canyons of lower Manhattan. ‘Values drift’ is pervasive in companies of every ilk, from sea to shining sea. Employees either don’t know their organization’s values, or they know that practicing them is optional. Either way the result is vulnerability to attack from inside and out, and rightly so … if a company is going to be great, its values have to go way beyond just a catchy slogan.

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