Last week a reader asked for advice on the best way to craft a vision and mission statement for their organization. Beware! This could be a big trap.

I often poll my speaking or workshop audiences and ask for a show of hands on how many participants’ organizations have a vision, values, or mission statement. Usually 75% or more hands go up. I then pose the question – but don’t ask for a show of hands – on how many of those statements have a high “snicker factor.”

Many managers fall into the trap of trying to craft the definitive or perfect set of statements. Typically the management group – or even worse, a sub-committee – will agonize over words and commas to create just the right set of values, vision statement, or mission. Our experience helping Clients boost their leadership and culture development aligns with the findings of Jim Collins (author of Built to Last and Good to Great – if you’re connected to me on LinkedIn CLICK HERE to read my reviews of these two books) and his extensive research on high performing companies: “We did not find any specific ideological content essential to being a visionary company. Our research indicates that the authenticity of the ideology and the extent of which a company attains consistent alignment with the ideology counts more than the content of the ideology.”

When I am facilitating a planning or strategic retreat with a management team and we seem to be heading toward Wordsmithing Hell, I’ll put a set of core values on the screen and ask if this is the sort of description they aspire to. The set of values clearly and eloquently outlines four core beliefs on communication, respect, integrity, and excellence. Participants will often nod their heads and agree that this is the sort of statement they need to come up with.

Then I show the logo of the company that crafted these high sounding words. They were written by the executives of Enron – the defunct poster child of corporate corruption and dishonesty.

Crafting or reviving an inspiring and energizing set of core values with a snappy statement of purpose and a compelling vision is a very powerful first step toward a high-performance culture. The process of first engaging the management team in this debate and then the rest of the organization in bringing them alive is very useful. But the ultimate fate of whether an organization or team’s vision, values, and purpose/mission is at the centre of vibrant culture or starves to death, is found in daily leadership behaviors and how they guide people decisions like hiring, promoting, performance management, recognition, and so on.

CLICK HERE for a selection of brief articles on organizational Vision, Values, and Purpose. CLICK HERE for a selection of articles on Culture Change.