A truth about strategy: it wasn’t what it is that counts, it’s what you do with it. So many companies fill out the paperwork without committing themselves to the implications, basically because they don’t want to be locked into anything that’s too “definite” in a world that they perceive as continuously changing.
The problem with that approach is that unless there is a context within which to assess how you operate and what you are working towards, the temptation is always to respond – meaning, often, that brands play by other people’s rules rather than driving and controlling their own market agenda.
Recently Andrew Marty took up this point about lack of specifics and application in an article on the value of mission, vision and values. The problem, he explains, is that 20 years of research into mission statements has shown they have a very weak relationship with profitability. Too many companies embark on feel-good exercises in this space that do little to change the competitive focus or ability of the brand. They don’t work because they lack proximity for the recipient and they are too conceptual and vague. They also don’t translate well into behaviors that people can use in their daily working lives.
He’s right – but I don’t think that it’s necessarily an inherent weakness in the framework itself so much as it is, too often, an unimaginative and unambitious way of completing the work. Too many companies don’t push the boundaries hard enough when it comes to laying out a clear grid for where they’re going, how they’re getting there and what they will value in the achievement of their competitive goals. They settle for statements that lack energy, because they are written by a committee and packed full of jingoism and buzzwords, instead of being meaningful and actionable ideas that set the course for how the brand’s culture will move forward meaningfully and effectively.
If you want your vision, mission and values to be more than brand paperwork, they need to be customer focused and they need to be hyper-aware competitively.
Vision Should Project
Depending on what drives your brand forward, this forward-looking element can be nuanced. Personally, I make three distinctions within this space. You may or may not choose to do the same:
- Ambition – your greatest hope for the world
- Purpose – the greatest hope you have for your company in terms of changing the world; in other words, what your people come to work to alter in the markets that you are present in.
- Vision – how you as a brand intend to change the world for your customers.
You can condense these ideas of course, or even explore the tensions between them. The critical element is that your vision lays out your path ahead. Because of that the ideas should be such that you continue to measure against and report to them. Too often, brands set a “north star” but fail to focus their strategies, story and metrics on achieving that all-important goal. Instead, as Marty points put, they arrange at a very nice combination of words, that they display with gusto and otherwise ignore.
Mission Should Excite
This element often fails to fire because, as per earlier, it lacks pertinence for people. If it says anything at all, it focuses on how the company vaguely intends to meet its vision, rather than putting the onus on what is expected of people acting within teams and on their own. Making a mission personal forces it to become the daily mission of everyone who works for the brand.
I’m often left with the impression that while companies are clear about what they don’t want people to focus on and how they don’t want people to act, they are less certain about articulating inspiring expectations that give people the motivations and the permission to explore what is possible. It comes back to that much-discussed point that too many companies and brand leaders within such companies have not moved on from the command-and-delegate arrangements that they feel comfortable with.
Your mission should focus on what your people are here to achieve (based on why) but, in some ways, it should also act as a counter-balance to the inclination to over-stipulate through policy how they are expected to achieve. Too often brands ask people to be creative and think broadly about problems and then tie them up in ways of doing and reporting that hamper the very thing they say they are most committed to. A powerful mission is a straight-forward way of reconciling intent and constraint at a principles level.
Values Should Differentiate
Too many of the value sets I see are packed with hygiene factors – like Integrity – that have no competitive value at all. For a brand, the whole purpose of values is to lay out the qualities that you value as a culture because they make you the most competitive you can be. To achieve that, they need to be distinctive (not just expected) and they need to lock in the qualities you most want to see displayed by people in their approach to their work.
In that sense, brand values are quite distinct from organizational values (and this same point expands to the difference between brand culture and organizational culture). The latter tends to be driven by what is considered acceptable – whereas brand values should be focused on what it will take for the brand to be competitive and brand culture should be the manner in which those values are expressed by people acting collectively. And because brands also have a personality in the marketplace, brand values should significantly influence things like the brand’s tone and manner.
Connect Brand Vision, Mission And Values With Business Strategy
Too many companies decide their vision, mission and values in isolation and without direct reference to their business goals. To me, the whole point of establishing this framework is to lock it into what the business is expecting its brand(s) to achieve. You can’t separate out the priorities of the business from the intentions of the brand because if you do you quickly send mixed messages to all involved. As one CEO who is heavily committed to these alignments once explained to me, nothing is too valuable to defy what defines you. Well said.
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Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education