A Clear Sense of Direction

On Values, Vision and Mission

It has been my privilege to serve as a Baldrige – based performance excellence examiner in two states, and to serve on the Board of Overseers for the Arizona program. National Baldrige performance excellence awards, along with their State – level counterparts, are based on written applications that respond to a comprehensive set of queries on an organization’s operating processes and practices, as well as corresponding outputs (results). Examiners are trained to seek a high degree of alignment within an applicant’s responses, tracing from statements on Core Values (who you are), Vision (the future you seek to create) and Mission (how you intend to pursue your Vision), through operating processes and practices, to demonstrated results.

In practice, however, statements on organizational Values, Vision and Mission are often little more than hype or platitudes. This is unfortunate, since earnest statements of Values, Vision and Mission provide a sense of direction and a basis for strategy, and execution for the entire organization.

Core Values [1]

Businesses awakened to the importance of core values almost twenty years ago, when Jim Collins’ and Jerry Porras’ Built to Last [2] was published. Since then, Built to Last has sold over a million copies. Built to Last sought to discover the factors that distinguished companies that enjoyed long (multi-generational) histories of sustained success by comparing clear successes with less successful rivals. The research methodology is both interesting and compelling. Bottom Line: the book’s major conclusion is that an emphasis on core values, cultivated throughout the organization’s culture, is a distinguishing hallmark of the successful companies studied. Guess what? A profusion of Values Statements ensued.

Core Values and Organizational Culture

I find it important to distinguish Values from Vision and Mission. Vision and Mission are strategic concepts regarding the organization’s approach to the marketplace. Both are situational and subject to prudent amendment as circumstances evolve. Core Values are, on the other hand, constitute “… the bedrock on which all foundations are built”.  Values reflect the beliefs of the defining senior leadership, often the organization’s founders — they are not determined democratically. Values, like solid rock, change slowly over time (earthquakes excepted, geological and organizational). Values are also restrictive, in that many of them amount to thou shalt nots [3].

Core values are foundational to the organization’s culture. The culture, in turn, defines the environment for execution. Execution means effective actions in alignment with direction. Strategic concepts provide direction.

Core values are likewise reflected in how the organization is perceived by others. This applies whether or not an organization’s values are publicized — or even recognized — within the organization. The values may be strong, or they may be weak — but they are there and they do matter.

Dr. David Hawkins provides some insight to this in his distinction between power and force [4]. Hawkins holds that individuals (and, by extension, organizations) can, due to strong core values, accrete a silent power that others find compelling. He likens this power to gravity: it is intangible and perceived only by its effects. Reasonably, this power is perceived as a virtue that the Romans called gravitas. Gravitas elicits respect, manifest as harmony within an organization and as credibility without. Harmony within supports execution. Credibility without provides an intangible boost in the marketplace — the marketplace for your goods and services, the marketplace for the talent you need, and the marketplace for the materials, services and supplies you buy.

The Vision Statement [5]

Capture - Alice ExcerptStephen Covey taught a generation to “start with the end in mind” [6]. Better yet, start with a clear idea expressed clearly and communicated effectively. The Business Dictionary defines Vision Statement [7]  as:

“An aspirational description of what an organization would like to achieve or accomplish in the mid-term or long-term future. It is intended to serve as a clear guide for choosing current and future courses of action”.

Change “would like to” to something stronger — perhaps “intends to”, “commits to”, or, better yet, “will”. Limit your statement to a few memorable sentences. Be explicit about your time frame for realization — something like “by 2020” or “within five years”. Then you will have an outline for a useful Vision Statement, not just fluff or hype.

One example of a useful Vision Statement is that of Interface Corporation, the carpet manufacturer:

“To be the first company that, by its deeds, shows the world what sustainability is in all of its dimensions: people, process, product, place and profit — by 2020 — and, in doing so, become restorative through the power of influence.”

Interface’s Vision Statement spells out what they intend to accomplish and when they expect to do so. It is clear how this Vision Statement can lead to rational goals and quantifiable objectives. At last report, they are on schedule to make their 2020 commitment!

Mission Statement

The Business Dictionary defines “Mission Statement” as: [8]

“A written declaration of an organization’s core purpose and focus that normally remains unchanged over time. Properly crafted mission statements (1) serve as filters to separate what is important from what is not, (2) clearly state which markets will be served and how, and (3) communicate a sense of intended direction to the entire organization.”

“A mission is different from a vision in that the former is the cause and the latter is the effect; a mission is something to be accomplished whereas a vision is something to be pursued for that accomplishment.”

Take Green Soul Botanical’s Mission Statement as an example: [9]

“Green Soul Botanicals’ mission is to provide Spas, wellness professionals and fellow travelers on the path with unique herbal products that are effective, luxurious and natural without artifice. In doing so, Green Soul Botanicals operates in an ethical and responsible manner, while providing right livelihood for those associated.” [10]

 As you can see, Green Soul’s mission statement specifies three target customer groups: Spas, wellness professionals and fellow travelers on the path (individuals that value the Spa lifestyle). The Mission Statement goes on to differentiate Green Soul’s products, its mode of operations and its responsibility to those engaged in the business. Consequently, the bases for constructing and executing a Business Model are in place.

What to Do Next?

Given a well communicated sense of direction, an organization can follow through by building a Business Model and setting a coherent set of goals and objectives that align with that sense of direction. Deploy those objectives throughout your organization and track those objectives through to relevant and measurable results:

Capture - Values to ResultsThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington

(Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

P.S: Contact me when your organization is serious about pursuing Sustainability … CH

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published weekly.


[1] The paragraphs on Core Values are borrowed from On Values Culture and Gravitas, this blog, 24 January 2013: http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2013/01/24/on-values-culture-and-gravitas/

[2] Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last, HarperCollins (1994, 1997)

[3] Patrick Lencioni, Make Your Values Mean Something, Harvard Business Review (July 2002). This HBR Tool Kit article provides useful insights on core values.

[4] David R. Hawkins, M.D. Ph.D., Power vs Force, revised edition, Veritas Publishing (1995, 1998, 2004, 2012), especially Chapter 11

[5] The paragraphs on Vision are borrowed from Better Vision, this blog, 11 September 2014: http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2014/09/11/better-vision/

[6] Covey, Stephen, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Revised Edition, Free Press (2004)

[7] http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/vision-statement.html#ixzz2GT4tPgcN

[8] http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/mission-statement.html#ixzz3kRXauQKY

[9] For more on Green Soul Botanicals see The Green in Green Soul, this blog, http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2014/05/21/the-green-in-green-soul/

[10] “Right livelihood” is a Buddhist precept. “To practice right livelihood, you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self” — Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Parallax Press (1998), p. 104, cited on-line at: http://buddhism.about.com/od/theeightfoldpath/a/rightlivelihood.htm