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The case for re-evaluating values

Recently I was doing some work with a customer how they might update their vision, mission and values.

It was a valuable exercise in thinking through what these mean in today’s world.

There’s no doubt many organisations should go through the same process and use it to help frame their sustainability strategy.

Strategy is frequently both misunderstood and bandied about by companies in a sometimes worrying way. Read Peter Knight’s excellent recent column in Ethical Corporation for a typically amusing and eloquent view on that.

The exercise on vision, mission and values I recently facilitated made me recall an episode of a few years back.

I was taking part in a private ‘expert’ roundtable with a particular company and some other folks.

At one point one of the company’s managers blurted out that the firm had recently “changed our values”.

The group raised a collective quizzical eyebrow. She explained:

“We’ve got a new CEO and he wanted them changed”

Surely, the group enquired, values are fundamental? Updating them may be one thing, but total change?

“Yes” the manager said, suddenly looking a bit worried.

So what are the new values? I asked.

“Well, we’re,… we’re…fun”

“Fun?” someone asked incredulously.

“Yes”, she looked nervously at a public affairs colleague, “and we’re…”

“Joyful” her colleague stated in a flat, dulled tone, which retrospectively was quite amusing.

Less than three years later, the firm in question was mired in a serious ethics crisis entirely of its own making which has to date cost the company millions.

So perhaps looking again at vision, mission and values with a senior team is not such a bad idea after all.

Here’s what Wikipedia says as a reminder:

“Vision: outlines what the organization wants to be, or how it wants the world in which it operates to be (an “idealised” view of the world). It is a long-term view and concentrates on the future. It can be emotive and is a source of inspiration. For example, a charity working with the poor might have a vision statement which reads “A World without Poverty.”

Mission: Defines the fundamental purpose of an organization or an enterprise, succinctly describing why it exists and what it does to achieve its vision. For example, the charity above might have a mission statement as “providing jobs for the homeless and unemployed”.

Values: Beliefs that are shared among the stakeholders of an organization. Values drive an organization’s culture and priorities and provide a framework in which decisions are made. For example, “Knowledge and skills are the keys to success” or “give a man bread and feed him for a day, but teach him to farm and feed him for life”. These example values may set the priorities of self sufficiency over shelter.”

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