Kraig Grime says an organisation’s purpose and values should be the main driver for every board discussion and decision.

    Too often, organisations develop mission statements and values and then do not think about them again until their next strategic planning meeting. Successful boards know that the opposite is true: these should be the main drivers for every board discussion and decision.

    A recent survey by Leading Teams asked more than 500 Australian employees about their attitudes towards their business’s mission statement and values, its impact on workplace behaviour and the key factors that contribute to a positive work environment. It found that two out of five respondents did not know their company’s mission statement and values. A further 40 per cent believed that their mission statement and values could apply to any company and only 20 per cent thought their company’s mission statement was inspiring and motivating.

    As the survey indicated, a significant issue with mission statements is that they are full of jargon and clichés that can apply to any organisation, not just the one they are written for. A meaningful, considered mission statement can be a powerful decision-making filter for a business. Getting the mission statement right can lead to a happier workforce and improve customer service, which in turn helps increase sales and profits.

    When the business environment is tough, many boards take strict control of the organisation, focusing on strategy instead of culture. However, in such uncertain times, boards must carefully consider what they want the company to achieve – build the best car on the market, change the way consumers think about energy, provide every Australian with access to healthcare and so on – and make that their mandate.

    Mission statements that focus on action have the power to excite and align employees and present a clear picture to consumers and other stakeholders about what the organisation stands for, but only if there is a true sense of purpose behind them. Meaningful mission statements give employees a reason to care about the company’s customers, their colleagues, and about how to do business right in a volatile business environment. It also helps executives to find what brings them together as a company, which may be values, a vision or a set of shared emotions.

    When boards craft a mission statement or re-examine one that no longer represents the business, they must consider that it communicates purpose or a reason for existing and shared values. A common purpose outlines the behaviours required by individuals and teams to ensure that business objectives are being met.

    The process of creating the mission statement is just as important as the statement itself. Getting staff and directors involved in creating the mission statement will enable them to have a better understanding of what they are setting out to achieve. Involving staff in the process of establishing shared purpose empowers them and makes them accountable for living these behaviours. Shared values help employees and other stakeholders make trade-offs in their everyday decisions, helping them to respond with greater consistency.

    A well-crafted mission statement allows the organisation to make consistent decisions over time. That is, when choosing between various courses of action, the mission statement will be understood by employees the same way over time because it is clear and easy to understand. It is the responsibility of the board to monitor the mission statement regularly and challenge staff to achieve the goals set out.

    To ensure that the organisation’s mission statement always stays relevant and meaningful, boards must begin each meeting with a review of the mission and address the agenda within that context. They should review performance of the business with the mission in mind and have regular conversations with executives and managers to ensure alignment translates into daily practice. They should also monitor results regularly and make adjustments to respond to changes in the business environment.

    Once the mission statement and values have been established, it is important to consistently communicate them to staff. This will help to influence and energise employees and get their support to live the values on a daily basis. Here are a few tips to communicate values in a meaningful way:

    The mission statement and values must be established across the company, not just at the board or even the executive level. If everyone in the organisation does not feel ownership over them, the values lose meaning quickly.
    Involve employees in the process. Seek their input on how well the organisation is living up to its values, and what behaviours need to be addressed to ensure there is consistency between values and performance. Include them in keeping the company accountable.
    Live the mission statement. Posting the values on the walls of the office is not enough. Be mindful of the values in every decision that is made and use them to explain motivations.
    Tie in the strategy with the values. Use the mission statement and values to guide decision making in areas of performance such as recruitment and reviews.

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