Many years ago, I noticed a cartoon in a magazine relating to a family – what each family member thought of when one suggested that the family should get a dog. The mother had a picture of a little Chihuahua sitting on a cushion. In the dad’s mind, he saw a Great Dane walking as aristocracy by his side. The little girl dreamt of a cute French Poodle nestled in her lap whilst she read. Her brother imagined a Saint Bernard frolicking and tumbling with him on the grass in the backyard. To each of the family members, the word “dog” meant something different. Each had a different picture of the family pet, with differing implications to each picture. In fact, unless the family went through the process of defining and agreeing on the exact dog that would be the most appropriate new member of the family, expectations could be dashed, with potential unhappiness and perhaps even resentment surfacing. Developing an aligned pet picture suddenly became very important for this family.
Likewise, organisations need to achieve alignment with respect to two critical issues – organisational vision and values. Organisational vision is the articulation of the “big picture” for the company, the direction it wants to go, what it wants to achieve and corresponding organisational goals that would flow from the same. Organisational values are the expected behaviour sets that create an enabling environment to achieve the goals. In other words, the “company values” suggest that behaviour contrary to the same values will impede progress towards achieving the organisational goals.
Besides the fact that organisational vision and values are often not communicated well by leadership, it is also important to note that, once communicated in whatever form, employees will have different “pictures” regarding the content and intent of the vision and values. These differences come from diversity in terms of education, culture, exposure, upbringing and experience. All of these together form one’s world view or paradigm of life, work and relationships – the way one thinks about things. Paradigms differ from person to person – bearing this in mind, the leader needs to find create and effective ways of aligning the organisational vision and values picture across the company. Some ideas could include the following:
- An artistic rendition of the vision – art somehow communicates across a broad spectrum of people. Graphically depicted vision leaves a lasting impression in the minds of the employees.
- The use of slogans for communicating vision – as slogans are repeated frequently, so the ideas behind them get embedded in the minds of staff.
- The use of simple symbols – values can easily be depicted as symbols. They should be visual and referred to frequently.
- Team discussion around the vision – team implications and expectations need to be clarified to get focus in the right place. Roles should be clear.
- A behaviour chart could be created – for every value, corresponding expected behaviours could be articulated (e.g. customer service excellence – we will answer the phone within three rings; we will always focus on the customer, never on other things, whilst in the customer’s presence; we will greet the customer by name where possible, etc.).
- The use of role-play – acting out vision and values, or the behaviours that are contrary to the same (what shouldn’t be done), helps clarify expectations.
- Encourage, recognise and reward good behaviour – behaviour that is aligned to vision and values should be cheered.
Alignment to organisational vision and values is essential for the organisation to achieve appropriate focus and energy applied correctly by all employees. The leader plays a huge role in realising this alignment. John Maxwell said: “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way”. Leaders should be modelling organisational vision and values.