Are The Words on the Wall, Walked in the Halls of Your Organisation?

Engaged employees

Is there a very attractively framed Vision, Mission and Values Statement on the wall in the foyer of your organisation? Does it tell everyone who enters through the door what your organisation is about, what its “Why” is. Are they just words on a wall, or are they lived out every day in your organisation? In other words, are the words on the wall walked in the halls of your organisation?

While this article is written for organisations and those who lead them, it is equally relevant to you even if you are not in a leadership role. Every one of us who wants to make a difference in our work and life and be successful in the process needs a personal vision, mission and values statement.

We all look for jobs in organisations whose values fit with our own. We read the advertisement first and if that resonates with us, we find out more. We go on to the website; we read their promotional material and we get the latest annual report. We try and find people who have work there or who know something about the organisation. We want to find out what kind of a reputation it has. If it all rings true to our values and sits well with what we consider is important in our lives, we apply for the job. Hopefully we get it and we commence work with great enthusiasm and high expectations.

Then what happens?

Unfortunately, many people then discover that it’s all rhetoric, all talk, just words. Work there is all about outcomes and results with the ends justifying the means. In the high pressure environment of many workplaces, all those values, those things that were so important to the way the organisation said it went about achieving its vision and goals, go out the window. The unwritten “rule” is we just get to where we want to go the quickest way possible. If we have to compromise, manipulate, tread on people’s toes, put people down, lie a bit, cheat a little, criticise or twist the truth, that’s O.K. as long as it’s not too obvious, we get away with it and we get the results.

Creating Culture.

It’s not O.K. as more and more organisations are finding out. It’s the way an organisation lives out its espoused vision, mission and values that creates the Organisational Culture. Culture is often taken for granted in organisations, just like the air we breathe. We don’t notice it until it is compromised. We want the “air” in our organisations to be fresh and invigorating. When the vision, mission and values are compromised, that “air” can become toxic, stale and oppressive with the obvious consequences for all who breathe it. The organisation and its employees become “sick”.

This means that the personal branding of the organisation is compromised also. As Richard Barrett, a leader in values-based leadership, has said: “Who we are and what we stand for is becoming as important as the product we sell or service we provide”. Most organisations are concerned about how they are perceived in the community and in their industry or professional sector but all too often they pay far more attention to the brand of their product or service, than to who they are and what they stand for, their “Why”.

More and more organisations are now, as a result of this awareness, putting their time, energy, commitment and money into aligning who they are and what they believe with what they do. In other words in educating and training their people to walk the talk – starting with the CEO and the management team.

How Do You Do That

Start by revisiting your Vision, Mission and Values Statement with all employees present because you want them to be part of this process right from the outset.
Ensure that discussion is a collaborative activity, not a monologue. What understanding do your people have of your Vision, Mission and Values?

David Parrish has an excellent and very meaningful, yet simple, explanation. He says that:

  • Vision describes where we are going.
  • Mission describes what we are going to do to get there.
  • Values describe how we are going to conduct ourselves along the way.

Go back to the organisation’s Vision Statement. It’s usually the Board of an organisation and/or the CEO or partners of a professional service firm who set the vision for the organisation. Because the Vision is about the future and where they want to be, the challenge here is to create a picture of it for the employees that makes it real and possible in the now, rather than some vague possibility in maybe 10 years time.

Revisit the Mission Statement next. We’ve all heard said about someone: “She’s on a mission. He’s on a mission”, meaning they have a goal that they want to achieve. Their commitment and determination is obvious to everyone and no one doubts they will achieve their mission or goal. So the description of the mission of the organisation has to be as decisive, determined and clear as that. People have to look at your organisation and say: That organisation is going somewhere! It is on a mission. It’s “Why” is very obvious to everyone.

Finally look to the Values. This is where the really interactive work can be done with all employees bringing many ideas and experiences to the exercise. Values are very much about them and how they conduct themselves. It’s about aligning what is important to them with what is important to the organisation. So let’s spend some time on this.

How many values does your organisation have? It is generally agreed that between 4 and 7 values is ideal. So if you have more than that it might be important to remove some or combine them in with one of the other values if they are similar. It’s much easier to live out a few values than a large number – to keep a few balls in the air all the time, than a dozen!

Values need to be shared. Does everyone have the same understanding of each value? Is there a shared understanding?

Some of the most common values in organisational value statements are: Respect, Integrity, Trust, Confidentiality. What do each of those look like in action every day in your organisation? What behaviours characterise each value?

Do this exercise as a group or team. Divide a sheet of paper into 3 columns and head each column.
Column 1 – What is our understanding of this value?
Column 2 – What are the desirable behaviours that demonstrate this value?
Column 3 – What are the undesirable behaviours that contradict this value?

Every decision in your organisation needs to be lined up against your vision, mission and values to see if it fits before it is finally agreed on. An organisation loses credibility in the eyes of employees first, then other stakeholders and then the community, when it consistently compromises on its espoused vision, mission and values, when the words on the wall are not walked in the hall.

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