Two things that can really drive a business is its ability to create a vision and a set of values that can align everybody in the organisation.
There are a lot of misconceptions around vision and values, many people thinking they are irrelevant, and often too abstract to have any real relevance to the daily tasks that everyone in the business does.
Vision – the roadmap
The business’ strategy shouldn’t be the confidential knowledge of the executive suite. Some organisations seem to think that employees shouldn’t know anything beyond the orders that are most suitable to their job, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. When people know what their purpose is, and how it contributes to something that is much bigger than their individual input, they become a lot more interested, committed and dedicated to the task.
Having a clear vision can shift your team members from being ‘order takers’ to being dedicated employees. When you see someone realise the importance and purpose of their work the difference is amazing.
When setting a vision, it’s important to set it in such a way that is clear and relevant. Far too many companies that have taken the time to write mission statements write them in such a way that nobody can remember it, nobody refers to it and nobody works by it. The trap is trying to combine too many elements into a single statement. You can’t focus on everything. The organisation needs a clear, single purpose and direction. Keep it clear and simple.
Buy in from EVERYONE
This is the most important element of values and vision approaches to organisations. Every employee should be able to state the organisation’s priorities at a moment’s notice. Try asking three people in your office what the company’s priorities are – if you get different or delayed answers then you don’t have buy in from everyone.
An organisation can’t afford to be lenient in this regard. Once the effort has been made to articulate a vision and communicate it through a company it needs to be rigorously applied. Every person that doesn’t completely buy into the vision makes the company a little bit less consistent, a little bit less reliable and a little bit less effective. Multiply this across teams and departments and you can see how important this is.
There is a huge responsibility for the organisation to communicate the vision to everyone in the company repeatedly. Each manager needs to talk to all his/her direct reports. It isn’t enough to have managers telling their staff “I’ve been told we have to do this, I know it’s a pain, but let’s just tick the box and get back to work”. The vision needs to be woven into every task and workflow to ensure it is taken seriously and taken on board. The more it becomes integrated into daily work, rather than just treated as a peripheral activity, the better.
Values – what is important?
After detailing the vision, it comes time to outline the values of a company. Again, this is serious business, you can’t just have a document that says that certain things are really important and not have people delivering on it. This would undermine everything. If your company values socially responsible activity every process needs to consider this. If minimising environmental impact is a value then all of the actions that impact the environment need to be heavily scrutinized.
Most listed companies either implicitly or explicitly aim to boost shareholder value. That is fine and businesses should, but if this is held up as a value alongside environmental impact, for example, then staff need to know what to do when there is a conflict between the two. It sounds simple enough, but so many companies let the values emerge rather than designing them.
The values and vision will only improve the business if it translates into the day-to-day activities and decisions that people within the company make every single day.
Accountability and implementation
It is really tough to change an organisation, particularly a large one that is trying to instil a new vision or values. There needs to be a strong accountability element. Some organisations do this by structuring performance appraisals around contribution to the values.
Often it helps to bring in an external consultant who can help with this sort of large-scale project. The persisting habits of people and departments within a business mean that often large-scale change is much more difficult for someone internal to create.
It’s also greatly beneficial to allow staff to have a significant input into how the vision and values can be expressed within their job. Creating that sort of ownership of a new direction can really help build the buy-in from all levels of the organisation.
A business needs to be clear about its vision and values. Without a clear direction, or a strong sense of what is important how can you possibly unify groups of people to achieve things together? When a company has a clear vision you remove so much of the unnecessary distraction and busy-work that can swallow up huge portions of time. The trickiest part is making sure it can all translate into action. Getting everyone on board means making 100% sure that everyone knows what will help and what will hinder in fulfilling that vision.
Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.