Know Where You Are Going
Vision, Mission, and Values – Laying the Foundation for High Performance
“If they can put a man on the moon, we can …”
This once popular expression implied that the size and complexity of a moon landing made all other human endeavors seem easy to manage. Going to the moon was viewed as the ultimate undertaking. After all, the Apollo program required billions of dollars, millions of hours, and thousands of men and women. But, we should also remember that the entire effort was driven by seven simple words:
“Perform a manned lunar landing and return.”
That was the primary mission of the Apollo flights, as stated by NASA. For more than eight years, from the first day the idea was articulated until Neil Armstrong’s first step on the lunar surface, there remained little doubt among NASA workers about what every meeting, every proposal, every budget discussion, every decision was ultimately intended to accomplish. For almost a decade, these seven words served as the guiding spirit, pointing the direction for everyone working in the space program.
There was no magic in the moon. Our leaders could have chosen Mars or some other lofty target. The magic was produced by providing a vision that others could comprehend and commit to.
If your goal is to harness the energy of every member of your organization to develop an effective, high performing enterprise, then you must develop and articulate your purpose and direction.
We believe this is one of the most important responsibilities of top management. It helps ensure that everyone is pulling in the same direction. It’s the first step toward high performance. In fact, we believe high performance is virtually impossible unless everyone knows where the organization is going.
The lack of a clear, purposeful destination generates nonproductive tension. Common sense tells us that a leader’s ambiguity cannot be translated into useful action. Eventually, the activities of any group working without shared objectives will degenerate into disorder and discord. Resourceful leaders practice techniques that can raise and lower the tension that occurs naturally in the workplace, keeping it in the constructive, energizing range.
One method of regulating tension effectively is to provide workers with purpose and direction. Successful leaders accomplish this by:
- Creating a vision
- Developing a mission
- Executing with values
Creating a Vision
Regrettably, the only perceptible direction some workers receive comes from leaders who are reacting to the latest quarterly report.
A vision statement, on the other hand, articulates the overreaching, long-term goals of the enterprise. It is a look beyond the present to see what could be. A vision statement should assert what the organization can be at its best. It may define what is unique about your enterprise. An effective vision statement is vivid, something you can describe that people can picture in their minds. The statement itself is concise, motivating, and memorable.
Developing a Mission
While the vision statement serves to unite people by pointing toward a destination, the mission specifies how the organization will get there. A well formulated mission outlines the who, what, and why. It identifies at minimum the type of business it is, its markets, its customers, and its financial goals. Unlike vision statements, which by definition are brief, mission statements may vary in length, from a couple of paragraphs to several pages.
A vision and mission can unleash boundless constructive tension. Determining what you want your organization to accomplish and then verbalizing it serves not only to focus the actions of workers, it also inspires them. Effective vision and mission statements create a sense of urgency and give people something they can set their sights on. A person performing even the most elementary tasks is not just a hired hand but a partner in achieving the organization’s goal. In this atmosphere, the likelihood of gaining the commitment of employees is greatly enhanced because there is something real and genuine they can commit to. This can generate the unity that leads to high performance.
Executing with Values
If vision and mission statements supply the long- term direction of an organization in terms of its business, markets, customers, and financial objectives, its values express the ethics that must guide the behavior of the organization and its members as they seek to achieve their vision and mission.
Examples of core values include respect for the individual, respect for the community, justice, concern for productivity, commitment to personal integrity, individual responsibility, freedom of action, and so on.
Corporate values express the ethics that constantly direct an organization’s day-to-day behavior. And they don’t come from the bottom up.
Corporate values represent the unwavering beliefs of the organization’s leadership. These are the principles that influence decisions every day at every level. They affect the way you treat your customers, workers, suppliers, and neighbors. They define how you are willing to operate as you pursue your mission — what behavior is appropriate, permissible, and what is not.
Only the Beginning
Obviously, vision, mission, or values are of little importance if people are unaware of them. Leaders must take advantage of every opportunity to communicate their meaning and to demonstrate the organization’s commitment to them. Until then, vision, mission, and values exist in our heads and our hearts; they are not something we can see and touch until they emerge in what the organization and its members do. When employees recognize that everyone in the organization, beginning with those at the top, is willing to personify these beliefs, an environment of positive, creative tension ensues.
Clear direction and a shared vision of the future mobilizes energy and makes real enthusiasm; dedication; and focused, collaborative action possible.
When you have established purpose and direction for your organization, you have taken the first step in a sequence of steps that can build a high-performance organization. That may seem like a tall order; but remember the power of NASA’s seven simple words. After all, if they can put a man on the moon . . . .