Get Grounded for Growth

“Vision, treatment mission, values”…ah, they roll off the tongue so easily.

But I find that folks tend to line up these three musketeers in the wrong order.   We need to reverse the order – start with Values and add in Purpose, before we go anywhere near Mission and Vision.

Why?  Values and Purpose tell us who we are as a business and why we’re here on this planet.  When we know the who and the why, it’s much easier to figure out the what and the how (“Mission”), and then the where of it all (“Vision”).  True, start-ups often need to fly by the seat of their pants until experience helps them more fully understand their identity. But for established businesses, a clear understanding of Values and Purpose is crucial for strategic planning and business success.

Success in business involves above all the ability to quickly decide what is most important in any situation. A deep understanding of core Values and Purpose allows us to say in a flash, “Yes, of course – it’s this, and not that”.  Strategic decision-making gives us the agility to out-dance both competitors and general market conditions.  And with an engaged and aligned work team that is also empowered to make its own decisions…the sky is the limit!

Since all decisions are based on Values, it should be easy to figure out our Values, right?

But in fact Values are not easy to identify.  We are way too close to them.  They’re like the background of a favourite painting…bringing definition and meaning to events in the foreground, but easily overlooked on their own.

Over the years, I’ve tried many methods to help people articulate their values.  I have to say that most methods fall short. Generally people work with a laundry list of abstract terms like “peace”, “freedom”, and “balance”.  Well, who on earth doesn’t want world peace?  Who doesn’t want freedom and balance?

Using the laundry list approach, people find it difficult to choose, internalize and then remember their chosen values – much less apply them in decision-making.  And the important question is always: what do these grand ideas really mean to me, right now, in this situation?

I’ve been having a lot of fun asking big questions lately with the 4-partner succession team at Menno S. Martin Contractor.  The fact that MSM is already over 70 years old tells us this business has been doing the right things over the years!

When we first started re-examining core Values at MSM, I asked the partners if they could state their company’s values without looking at the website.  When they weren’t able to do so easily, I knew we were starting in the right place.
So I asked team members to individually review a basic Values list and choose the ones that stood out for them.  We pooled our lists, noted commonalities and patterns, and reduced the joint list to about ten.

Now, 10 is way too many values to work with.  I like to see people whittle away until they come up with a top 3.   Because generally by the time most people get to the 4th one, they’re hesitating, and by the 5th value they’re drawing a blank. We’ve all seen this happen.

But this is not what we want to see with core Values. In fact, we want every last person in the entire business to remember the company’s core Values at the drop of a hat, in their sleep, and while they’re out of town.

So we took each of the 10 values and put it through some tests.  Business author Jim Collins has developed some highly useful questions for prioritizing Values and Purpose. Here are my personal favourites:

–       If you were to start a new organization, would you build it around this core Value regardless of the industry?

–       Would you want your organization to continue to stand for this core Value 100 years into the future – no matter what changes occur in the outside world?

–       Would you want your organization to hold this core Value, even if at some point in time it became a competitive disadvantage?

After much discussion, we were able to come up with MSM’s renewed list of Values.  While there are some similarities with the original list, the new list of values is shorter, pithier, and easier to remember:

1. Build it right.

2. With integrity.

3. People first.

We all fell in love with MSM’s renewed Statement of Values…including me : ).


1. Grab a list of Values from the net, or email me, and I’ll send you one.

2. Review the list and choose your Top 10.  Take your time and confer with others if necessary.

3. From there, test each brainstormed value and choose the 3 that really stand out for you.

4. Wordsmith until you resonate completely with them and you sense they really articulate what is most important to you.

5. Now post your values where you’ll see them every day and let them permeate everything you do.

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