Defining Organizational Values


I was working last week with a team of executives in Napa County, California. Our day-long meeting was the culmination of a process that led to re-defining the agency’s purpose, core values, and vision. We spent much of the day articulating the specific “we statements” that support their core values of Integrity, Service, Excellence, Inclusion, and Collaboration. This is the critical step in becoming a truly values-driven organization because, by defining the exact behaviors that support each core value,  every manager and employee knows: “These are the behaviors we expect of you. They are what defines us an Agency and are essential to our success as an Agency.”

Afterward, I got an email from one of the participants who wrote:

“Nice job yesterday. In my past work with strategic planning, the agency has had a Mission statement.  Is our new purpose statement the same thing as our mission, or is the vision looking like our mission? I understood the mission to be how we are going to make the Vision statement happen.  Please advise.”

I wrote her back the following:

“What I’ve found is that purpose and vision together with core values provides an organization a sense of clarity about what is important – why are we here (purpose), where are we going (vision), and what’s essential for our success (the core values). Organizational mission statements tend to be a mishmash of core values, purpose, and vision, resulting in clarity about none of them.”

Furthermore, I replied:

“There are times when a mission statement is useful. The most famous case is NASA, when it defined in the 1960s its mission to reach the moon by the end of the decade. That was neither NASA’s purpose nor its vision. But it did represent the single most important priority for the Agency during a specific period of time. Similarly, Volvo has a mission of making customer service paramount. Southwest has a mission of low fares. Sometimes the mission is communicated internally (Volvo). Sometimes externally (Southwest). But they are not substitutes for purpose, core values, and vision.”

Note: the first and second chapters of my book, “The Leadership Equation,” offer more examples and explain in detail the advantages of this approach.

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