Are Vision, Mission and Values Statements Just Hollow Rhetoric?

July 17, 2009
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One of my pet peeves is that many organizations who hang their vision and mission statements on the wall of their building reception lobby have not completed their intent. The intent of these statements should be to drive transformational change.

I discovered a writer, Marshall Goldsmith, who I share his views. In excerpts from his recent article Are You Wasting Your Time on Values Statements? Marshall states:

Companies have wasted millions of dollars and countless hours of employees’ time agonizing over the wording of statements that are inscribed on plaques and hung on walls. … But this obsession with words belies one very large problem: There is almost no correlation between the words on the wall and the behavior of leaders. … since the big messages are all basically the same, the words quickly lose their real meaning to employees – if they had any in the first place.

A couple of years ago, my partner, Howard Morgan, and I completed a study … We looked at the impact of leadership development programs in changing executive behavior. As it turns out, each of the companies (researched) had different values and different words to describe ideal leadership behavior.


One of my pet peeves is that many organizations who hang their vision and mission statements on the wall of their building reception lobby have not completed their intent. The intent of these statements should be to drive transformational change.

I discovered a writer, Marshall Goldsmith, who I share his views. In excerpts from his recent article Are You Wasting Your Time on Values Statements? Marshall states:

Companies have wasted millions of dollars and countless hours of employees’ time agonizing over the wording of statements that are inscribed on plaques and hung on walls. … But this obsession with words belies one very large problem: There is almost no correlation between the words on the wall and the behavior of leaders. … since the big messages are all basically the same, the words quickly lose their real meaning to employees – if they had any in the first place.

A couple of years ago, my partner, Howard Morgan, and I completed a study … We looked at the impact of leadership development programs in changing executive behavior. As it turns out, each of the companies (researched) had different values and different words to describe ideal leadership behavior. But these differences in words made absolutely no difference in determining the way leaders behaved. One company spent thousands of hours composing just the right words to express its view of how leaders should act – in vain. I am sure that the first draft would have been just as useful.

Ultimately, actions (of executive leaders) will say much more to employees about (their) values and (their) leadership skills than words ever can. If (their) actions are wise, no one will care if the words on the wall are not perfect. If (their) actions are foolish, the wonderful words posted on the wall will only make (them) look more ridiculous.

What caught my attention was “no correlation between the words and … behavior.” What is a solution? I am big fan of strategy maps containing causally linked strategic objectives from which projects and core processes are identified for subsequent action and improvement. This brings focus. Then key performance indicators (KPIs) with targets are derived from the planned projects, actions and process improvements. They are monitored in a balanced scorecard – the feedback mechanism of the strategy map. You get what you measure. KPIs with accountability with consequences for them result in alignment of managers and employees with the executive’s mission and vision.

And where does correlation fit in? In a balanced scorecard influencing measures may have high or low correlation with influenced measures (sometimes called lagging indicators). Wouldn’t an organization want to routinely know the degree of correlation between its measures? If it did, then it could continuously refine the measures similar to a scientific laboratory experiment. And is this possible today? Yes. For the explanation of how, read the last few paragraphs of my blog Predictive Analytics – Dream or Reality?