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Vision, Mission and Values – Why should we spend time on this?

Clearly defined company mission, culture and values helps to improve the quality of communications in a business. Too often I hear people say: “It’s all in the owners head” when issues of direction and key decision outcomes are under discussion. Businesses perform better when there is clarity and consensus around what the business is for, how things get done around here and what everyone agrees is really important to make consistently observable for all customers and outsiders in the business.
Best in class mission statements include Microsoft (early 1980’s): “A PC on every desk and in every home.” Google’s “To organise the worlds information and make it universally accessible and useful”.
It is possible to define a company culture statement when it reaches a point where a distinctive way of working and expectations around how things are done emerge. It pays to spend time putting written words together to describe what that is. Having a clearly defined culture statement helps employees understand what is important and how to fit in. Again, Google nailed it with “Focus on the user and all else will follow”. It is OK to come up with a page of supporting arguments if you want, but try to come up with a phrase people can easily remember.
A statement of what the companies’ values are is especially useful when coaching people towards higher standards of performance. Values are a list of 3 to 5 word or phrases which proudly define distinctive aspects of how you do things. They should be broadly defined so that when something goes wrong, one of them is likely to be useful in helping to constructively calling people’s attention to where the ball got dropped. Ericsson kept this simple with “Professionalism, Perseverance and Respect”.
There is never a bad time to put these foundational words in place, but it is particularly useful to do so when an owner/founder is establishing a management team. Best practise involves setting aside the time to put this in place which can be a challenge when it is not obvious to everyone what problem they are trying to solve. My approach to that is to ask the three questions which should be answered with the mission, culture and values statements. Specifically, what is it the business is set up to do? How does it go about doing that? And finally, what aspects of getting that done leave no room for compromise?
If you can all get in a room and answer those three questions to everyone’s satisfaction, you are on your way!