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As organizations grow, they revisit their strategic plans and revise their vision and mission — i.e., where they are going and how they are going to get there. But what typically remain constant over an organization’s journey are the values they live and breathe and upon which they base their most important decisions.
When organizations embark on the exercise of defining their vision, mission and values, it is the articulation of their values that they usually struggle with the most. They may have a feel for what is important to them, but putting this into words can be a real challenge.
This was exactly the situation with the executive team of a fast-growing and dynamic retail organization that had previously struggled with defining their values. It was during the visioning exercise of a strategic planning retreat that they were finally able to find their values — an outcome they didn't expect.
During the visioning exercise, they were asked to brainstorm what words, actions and thoughts came to mind about what they wanted their organization to be and how they wanted it to be perceived by their customers, staff, shareholders and other key stakeholders. The group came up with a long list of words and phrases that, through a simple voting exercise, they narrowed down to the top seven or eight that resonated with the entire group. The next step of the exercise was to fashion these words and concepts into the beginnings of a vision statement for the organization.
As they studied the words and played with various statements and phrases, one member of the group had an epiphany: “As I look at the words we have landed on for our vision, what I really see are our values; these words really describe what I base my decisions on and what I hold sacred in running our business.”
After careful reflection, the rest of the group agreed. Having defined the initial words, it was a relatively effortless exercise to define each value in terms that would resonate with the entire organization.
Vision, mission and values define an organization and it is important to keep all three elements in mind as you go through a strategic planning exercise. For this organization, values were found through visioning.
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