I say that because these two terms have got to be among the most abstract, overused, misunderstood words in business.
Lots of companies have values but do they actually live by them or is it just a noble-sounding plaque that hangs in the foyer for when senior executives walk past they can feel good?
Too often, these exercises end with a set of generic platitudes that do nothing but leave employees directionless or cynical.
Who doesn’t know of a mission statement that reads something like, “XYZ Company values quality and service,” or, “Such-and-Such Company is customer-driven.” Tell me what company doesn’t value quality and service or focus on its customers! And who doesn’t know of a company that has spent countless hours in emotional debate only to come up with values that, despite the good intentions that went into them, sound as if they were plucked from an all-purpose list of virtues including “integrity, quality, excellence, service, and respect.” Give me a break—every decent company espouses these things! And frankly, integrity is just a ticket to the game. If you don’t have it in your bones, you shouldn’t be allowed on the field
By contrast, a good mission statement and a good set of values are so real they smack you in the face with their concreteness. The mission announces exactly where you are going, and the values describe the behaviors that will get you there.
Values are just behaviors—specific, nitty-gritty, and so descriptive they leave little to the imagination. People must be able to use them as marching orders because they are the how of the mission.
The executive team may come up with a first version, but it should be just that, a first version. Such a document should go out to be poked and probed by people all over an organization, over and over again. And the executive team has to go out of their way to be sure they’ve created an atmosphere where people feel it is their obligation to contribute.
Now, if you’re in a company where speaking up gets you whacked, this method of developing values just isn’t going to work. I understand that, and as long as you stay, you’re going to have to live with that generic plaque in the front hall.
But if you’re at a company that does welcome debate—and many do—shame on you if you don’t contribute to the process. If you want values and behaviors that you understand and can live with yourself, you have to make the case for them.
Example of strong values are:
•Never let profit center conflicts get in the way of doing what is right for the customer.
•Give customers a good, fair deal. Great customer relationships take time. Do not try to maximize short-term profits at the expense of building those enduring relationships.
•Always look for ways to make it easier to do business with us.
•Communicate daily with your customers. If they are talking to you, they can’t be talking to a competitor.
•Operations should be fast and simple.
•Value and respect each others time.
•We should know our business best, we dont need consultants to tell us what to do.
Clarity around values and behaviors is not much good unless it is backed up. To make values really mean something, companies have to reward the people who exhibit them and “punish” those who don’t.
It seems obvious, doesn’t it, that a company’s values should support its mission, but it’s amazingly easy for that not to be the case. A disconnect between the parts of a company’s framework probably is more a sin of omission than of commission, but it often happens.
Look, I realize that defining a good mission and developing the values that support it takes time and enormous commitment. There will be long, contentious meetings when you would rather go home. There will be e-mail debates when you wish you could just go do real work. There will be painful times when you have to say good-bye to people you really like who just do not get the mission or live its values. On days like those, you might wish your mission and values were vague and generic.
They can’t be.
Take the time. Spend the energy.
Make them real.. Good luck..