I’ve been interviewing senior leaders and reviewing documents to tailor a keynote presentation for the company’s executive strategy session this month. They’re a textbook example of effectively using the COVID crisis to renew and refocus their leadership and culture development. Their “strategic framework” succinctly cascades from vision, mission, and values to strategic goals, key initiatives, and key performance indicators. They’re revisiting and adjusting their priorities and behaviors to stay focused.

This is a refreshing change from the muddled mush of visions, values, mission statements, and strategies we too often see. In their article, Why Corporate Purpose Statements Often Miss Their Mark, three leadership professors and researchers analyzed nearly 2,000 CEO’s descriptions of their company’s purpose. “Incredibly, we found that 93 percent failed to state why their company is in business. In other words: Most purpose statements lack any meaningful sense of purpose.”

Over the years, we’ve been involved in many “vernacular engineering” debates as leadership teams debate whether the statements they’ve been crafting are a vision, a mission, a statement of values and goals, or the like. Often these philosophical labeling debates are picking the flyspecks out of the pepper. Unless you’re lexicographers in the dictionary business, don’t worry about definitions of vision, mission, values, or whatever you may be calling the words you’re using to define who you are and where you’re going.

What matters is that your leadership team has discussed, debated, and decided on the answers to these three questions (in no particular order):

  • Where are we going (our vision or picture of our preferred future)?
  • What do we believe in (our principles or values)?
  • Why do we exist (our purpose or mission)?

Label them whatever works best for your team and organization. They are critically important questions. They are fundamental to leading others. They’re the core of a vibrant and effective organizational culture.

Once your leadership team has agreed on where you’re going, what you believe in, and why you exist, you can breathe life and vitality into your Focus and Context with these approaches:

  • Engage and Energize — management speaks to the head with goals, plans, and budgets. Leadership connects with the heart using emotive language, images, stories, metaphors, and experiential learning.
  • Simplify and Emotionalize– wordy and bureaucratic mission statements that include everything and everybody are boring and lifeless. Boil it your reason for being, or purpose down to a snappy phrase less than 10 words long.
  • Balance Electronic and Human Connections — no matter how well they’re written, vision, values, and purpose statements need to come alive. They need powerful verbal communication for heart-to-heart connections.
  • Powering People Decisions– align performance management and promotion practices to your vision, values, and purpose. What’s rewarded and measured is what’s treasured. People decisions are where your desired culture sinks or soars.
  • Evolution not Revolution— organizational immune systems are triggered by dramatic and radical change that dismiss past efforts. Effective leaders blend and build on strengths with the shifts needed for a more adaptive culture to capitalize on our uncertain and rapidly unfolding future.
  • Lighten Your Load– a clear vision, values, and purpose can help avoid being stupid busy. Periodically, your team needs to step back to assess and reset your goals and priorities.

The authors of the Harvard Business Review article, “Put Purpose at the Core of Your Strategy,” conclude, “Many companies consider purpose merely an add-on to their strategy, but the most successful companies put it at the core, using it to redefine the playing field and reshape their value propositions.”

Further Reading