Chances are, even if you don’t know what your vision and values are, someone else does. And, as a senior executive, getting caught not knowing might be embarrassing – sure, but getting caught not living up to them, can be devastating.
Case in point: if you haven’t seen the video of Senator Elizabeth Warren reaming Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf (September 20), you should. Here’s a handy link so you can check it out for yourself.
Without getting into the gory details, this is an extreme example of corporate misbehavior. Stumpf is revealed (in dramatic and eloquent fashion) by Senator Warren for the world to see as someone who not only didn’t live up to, but blatantly disrespected his company’s values. Specifically, he’s called out for touting “accountability” – when, in Senator Warren’s litany of facts, he shows none.
While the Wells Fargo situation involves much larger legal, financial and ethical issues, the story and Senator Warren’s admonition serves as a hugely important cautionary tale for executives serving in a leadership capacity, especially in the communications function.
This is a moment to reflect on you, your leadership, your peers, your company; are you walking the talk?
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
In nearly two decades of communications work, I’ve had the pleasure of being involved in developing or refreshing mission, vision, and values for organizations on several occasions. This can be an incredibly inspiring and rewarding experience with leaders who embrace the power of a process that illuminates their organization’s biggest aspirations and deepest beliefs. Importantly, this process mobilizes a workforce or even a small team with clarity and purpose.
I’ve also seen (and attempted to guide through) plenty of instances where company vision and values felt like the cheesy poster on the wall they were.
When vision and values are merely an item on a checklist – based on nothing but some creative wordsmith’s version of the business story – that’s when they mean nothing. To put it more bluntly, they are a fraud.
The problem, as I see it, is that there are in fact two opposing realities:
Values Define Organizations
First, I think we can all agree that companies are responsible for telling their story to employees, investors, media, customers, partners and the community. Theoretically, an organizations’ mission, vision and values have been upheld as the foundation for all of these communications.
Ideally, these elements already (we’ll come back to this) serve as the basis for the business operations so the communications are just reinforcing these points. And so, these statements get published on the web site, infused into marketing materials, placed prominently in annual reports, animated in recruitment videos, etc., etc.
Our Values Are….What?
Unfortunately, the second fact is that all too often vision and values do not occupy a central position in the organization’s operations, they are not known by most or all, and/or they are not even relevant. Whether they were ever taken seriously, the current leadership was not around when they were created, and/or doesn’t have an interest in revisiting them over time, these statements end up being just words. Words that can get you in A LOT of trouble (see video above!).
Take This Gift
So, if you are, or you have your dutiful teams in Human Resources and Communications, populating onboarding decks, creating paperweights, and laying out reports with the words vision and values, PLEASE, take a moment to revisit them…now!
Reflect on your vision and values statements deeply, and on how well you embody them. Maybe, engage others in evaluating if they are on target and if you’re living up to them. Don’t wait for a crisis to have a “value” thrown back at you, your credibility questioned, or worse.
Consider this timely and gut-wrenching example as a gift from Senator Warren. Anyone in any position of power – whether it be a company, organization or even for ourselves – can use this case as an occasion to get to the truth.
I don’t know about you, but I like to stand for something, AND believe in my heart that it’s for real.
After all, values are supposed to articulate practice not aspiration. The real meaning is in their application to the everyday work of the organization. This is the “walk” and not the “talk” that we are measured against.
“Go Forth and Prosper”
To borrow a quote from the famous author of “Frankenstein,” Mary Shelley who offered those words about her novel’s debut.
It’s easy to get all wrapped up in the process to avoid this often unenviable task of pushing for things that are often dubbed by naysayers as “unnecessary precautions,” “fluff,” or “busywork.” Don’t overthink it.
Here are some basic steps.
1. Get your Mission, Vision, Values under your nose now.
2. Evaluate against reality, identify gaps (and get help, as needed).
3. Review with leadership. Align operations plans.
4. Integrate tracking in the context of overall business metrics.
5. Share progress. Notice the difference.
Hope these ideas help and we can all feel proud to work towards, not only a less embarrassing future, but a values-based (for real!) future.