It’s an old well-worn saying that has stood the test of time. Simply translated, if the organisation is designed poorly, with poor vision, strategy, mission and internal values then the results will follow. This all comes before the structure and systems.
An organisational vision provides guidance about what core to preserve, and what future to stimulate progress toward, but vision has become one of the most overused and least understood words in business language, conjuring up different images for different people and as a result serving up confusion and frustration, rather than clarity and direction.
The vision needs to be compelling and should encompass a number of simple elements to ensure it becomes alive. Firstly the vision should be imaginable, it needs to convey what the future will look like to employees and give them a clear picture of how the organisation will look, it also needs to be desirable in a way that appeals to all stakeholders and gives them something to work toward. The vision should also be feasible; if we set something out that people desire but can’t picture themselves ever achieving, it is wasted. The vision should be flexible to allow for changing conditions, and finally it should be quick and easy to communicate such as the simple examples below:
Oxfam: A just world without poverty
3M: To solve unsolved problems innovatively
Once a strong vision has been designed and communicated, the company needs to understand what their core values are so that the vision can be well supported. Values tell both customers and employees what the organisation is about, and help clarify the identity of the company. They should make an emotional connection with people so that they are deeply understood. There are many techniques for helping to create a core value set but possibly the simplest is to gather a group of people working in the organisation who are seen as high performers and are well respected by their peers and the management team, and ask them to articulate what they see as the core values of the organisation. Once they have defined these core values, they should be challenged with the following questions:
- Are the core values that you hold to be fundamental regardless of whether or not they are awarded?
- If you woke up tomorrow morning with enough money to retire for the rest of your life, would you continue to hold on to these core values?
- Can you envision these values being as valid 100 years from now as they are today?
- Would you want the organization to continue to hold these values, even if at some point they became a competitive disadvantage?
- If you were to start a new organization tomorrow in a different line of work, would you build these core values into the new organization, regardless of its activities?
The key thing to remember about core values is that an organisation will find it virtually impossible to impose these on people. If they are forced then employees won’t make the emotional connection and misalignment and frustration will reign. Values have to embody what the employees feel the organisation stands for, and as a result any new employee will quickly understand the way the business operates and will quickly align and contribute value from day 1.
So if you want to work in an organisation that genuinely strives for high performance, take a close look at its vision and values, make sure they are aligned to you and are something you can believe in and want to work in, then a happy partnership will begin and continue.
Written by Mark Fox