Values, Vision, Mission (Part 3)

Values, Vision, Mission — How to Get Them Right
Part 3 of a Four-Part Tutorial

Values: Navigational Buoys for Your Business

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Values keep your company in the right channel moving forward

Whenever you enter or leave a harbor, navigational buoys mark the channel — red buoys on one side, green buoys on the other. So long as a vessel stays between the buoys, there is no risk of running aground.

For businesses (or any other human enterprise) our values serve as our navigational buoys. They keep us in the right channel moving forward.

As encore entrepreneurs, we've had enough life experiences that our values are well-established. And when we start a small business, these values flow into its operation.

For businesses our values serve as our navigational buoys. They keep us in the right channel moving forward.

In fact, one defining characteristic of very small businesses is that their culture is a direct extension of the personality, values, and skill sets of the owner. In the arena of values, the company's values are the owner's values, pure and simple.

As a result, small businesses frequently launch, or even operate for years, without taking time to build a concise list of the values that should guide day-to-day decision-making. And this is no less true for encore entrepreneurs than for anyone else starting a business.

But the exercise of reducing your values to writing is highly beneficial for at least three reasons:

  • First, the exercise itself forces provocative reflection on which of your many values are truly most important to you. This reflection gives you greater clarity on which values you consider primary, which you consider secondary.
  • Second, as you add employees — beginning with the very first one — it's vital for them to be attuned to your key values. Otherwise their decisions and actions may not always be consistent with your orchestrating values. Their failure to honor your values here and there can eventually nudge the business outside of the marker buoys.
  • And third, your core values should serve as marker buoys for your vision and mission statements. That is, your vision statement should always be consistent with your core values. And since your mission statement should be an extension of your vision statement, values continue to be marker buoys at every stage of the planning process.

Your core values should serve as marker buoys for your vision and mission statements.

Classifying Business Values By Type

In this tutorial, our model for defining vision and mission statements calls into play three sets of values: core values, strategic values, and operational values. Together these form what I refer to as the "orchestrating values" for your business.

For many years I was not sufficiently clear in my own mind about the distinction between core values, strategic values, and operational values. I just lumped all corporate values into one big bag. As a result, I was not serving my clients well, because I was not giving my clients the tools to distinguish clearly among these different sets of values.

This lack of clarity then made for frustration when I tried to help executive teams define the key values for their company. Here's why.

When identifying the core values for a company, there are two critical objectives. The first is to be certain that the values which emerge from the process are truly part of the DNA in the company's culture. If not, then the statement of values will be little more than window-dressing. It will have no formative influence on employee personal behavior.

A list of core values should have no more than seven values on the list

The second critical objective is to hold the final list to no more than four or five values. In no case should the list be longer than seven. Otherwise, the list of values is too long to be readily recalled. And if they cannot be readily recalled, they can hardly serve as navigational buoys for decision-making.

My frustration as a facilitator came in helping the executive team pare down a working list of a dozen or more values to the final list of five, six, or seven. Usually we were already working from a list that had been heavily edited. It may have originally had 20 or 30 values on it, particularly if we began (as I often do) by building a comprehensive catalog of values that might be considered for inclusion.

As we would review our working list, now reduced to a dozen or so values, a strong case could be made for including each of the remaining values in the final cut. Each was in some way essential to the success of the business. So which should be kept, which discarded?

It was years before I realized that our problem was failing to realize that values in a company are not all on the same tier. There are actually three tiers of values.

  • Some are core values. These are values that will not change no matter how much the vision, mission, and competitive environment change. Things like integrity and mutual respect fall into this category.
  • The second tier is comprised of strategic values. These are values — over and beyond the core values — which must be honored if our vision is to be accomplished.
  • The third tier builds around the values which are essential for us to fulfill our mission statement. I call these operational values.

Core values will not change no matter how much the vision, mission and competitive environment change.

From hindsight I now recognize that our list of a dozen values was an admixture of core values, strategic values, and operational values. Had we been clearer about which category of values we were identifying, the paring-down process would have been much easier.

As has been noted, core values do not change. Or they do so only rarely. By contrast, strategic and operational values are by nature subject to change. Since strategic values support our vision statement, any change to that statement may lead to a realignment of strategic values. The same is true in the relationship between our mission statement and our operational values. A redefined mission statement may necessitate a revision of our operational values.

A Case Study of Values, Vision, and Mission Statements

An example of vision and mission statements developed in integration with corporate values

To illustrate these principles in concrete terms, let me use an example from one of my companies. In 2010 we launched a subsidiary operation in East Africa to provide leadership training for high-level managers in both the public and private sectors. We call the initiative Leadership Development Africa.

Here are our core values:

  • Integrity
  • Open communication
  • High performance standards
  • Respect
  • Delivering on what we promise

These are values that will guide us no matter what nation we work in or how the structure of our program changes as we respond to new opportunities or unexpected developments.

Our vision statement, while not speaking directly to these values, is completely harmonious with them. That is, we can carry out this vision without violating any of our core values. Here is our vision:

To help Africa achieve her global economic potential through exceptional leadership in the public and private sectors.

Based on this vision, certain strategic values become vital, especially since we are pursuing this vision in a world whose culture and sub-cultures are relatively new to us:

  • Quality relationships with African leaders
  • Persistence
  • Readiness to learn and adapt
  • Programming flexibility

Next, within these values we move to our mission statement:

We equip established and emerging African leaders to transform the economic landscape of their continent based on principles of democracy and a free-market economy. We deliver professional, high-value leadership development programs built around current best practices worldwide.

To execute this mission, additional considerations enter the picture in the form of operational values:

  • Quality training
  • Up-to-date expertise
  • Financial viablity
  • Sensitivity to local culture
  • Relevance to local needs

From this example you can see how the various tiers of values relate to our vision and mission statement. Because values, vision, and mission are so interrelated, they should not be defined in separate processes. Instead, they should be developed in a single process that treats them as an interactive whole.

In Part 4, therefore, we look at the framing of vision and mission statements as part of this process.

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