Mission, vision, and values – real, or just B.S.

Jan 28, 2022

If you’re not doing a good job with these, you’re losing an opportunity to further your culture and to provide meaningful motivation to your employees.

I was talking to my brother, John, yesterday afternoon on the telephone. John – after a long career at the top of the world’s largest group of advertising and marketing companies, WPP Group – is now the chairman of a company called Neuro-Insight, a firm that measures brain activity in response to a client’s promotional efforts.

As is often the case, we eventually ended our phone call talking about business. After we railed on one of the latest management fad programs – one I won’t name to avoid alienating any of our readers who are currently implementing it – we got to “mission, vision, and values.” Our consensus is that while these things are incredibly important, most CEOs don’t even know what they are for their own firms, much less do anything to make them real. His contention is that whenever you talk about employee performance, it should always be in the context of those things and whether or not the employee did anything to further them or not.

I didn’t disagree with him. I think far too many company owners in our industry think that these are things they write versus things they live. It’s just another academic exercise that wastes everyone’s time, and gives cynical employees ammunition to criticize management. That’s a problem.

I wish I could wave my magic wand and make every AEC firm’s mission, vision, and values statements more real and more substantive. But I can’t. Yet it’s really important, especially today when we work in an industry that faces huge talent shortages – where employees desperately crave purpose and meaning – and one made up of firms that are actually doing something good for society, and should not have a hard time with this.

Why can’t we do a better job with these things (mission, vision, and values statements)? I have several theories on it. First and foremost, there are just too many “management junkies” out there working as principals of AEC firms who read every new book and listen to every podcast, and eat it all up without considering the qualifications and experience of the sources of this content. They love this stuff and jump from one book and one fad to another, thinking each one could be a potential panacea for every problem the company faces.

Another problem is that missions, visions, and values are typically the products of a group of people, and therefore their outputs inevitably end up being the proverbial “horses designed by committees” (camels) that please no one. The language gets too complicated, and the meaning more distorted with every iteration. The authors cannot put themselves in the shoes of their skeptical rank and file employees and can’t see how they will react to their products.

The last problem is the consultants firms in our business use. I hate to be critical, but most of them are washed up middle managers who were never even owners of the companies they worked for, or people who have little specific experience in our business. I would not hire ANY consultants who aren’t part of a “real business,” with that company being one having management who have proved they can run their own growing, successful business. If one can’t run their own business successfully, what makes anyone think they can provide good advice to anyone else? It’s like being a parenting “expert” who has juvenile delinquent kids.

In any case, mission, vision, and values should be critical elements of how firm leadership guides the development and growth of their companies, and the behaviors of their employees. Not doing a good job with these things is a lost opportunity to provide meaningful motivation to all employees and help further the cultures their leaders are trying to create. 

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.