From Boardroom to Every Room: Bringing Vision, Mission and Core Values to Life

Throughout my career, I’ve been deeply involved in guiding organisations as they define their vision, mission, and core values—the VMV that stands at the heart of their identity. Crafting these statements is a pivotal first step but only the beginning of a much more intricate dance. It’s vital because these words risk fading into the background without a thorough integration process, turning into nothing more than smart-looking posters on office walls.

I recall numerous interviews with middle managers who, when asked about their company’s vision, had to pull out their phones to look it up. That’s a clear signal to me: the real work isn’t just in the writing; it’s in the embedding. It’s like planting and nurturing a seed, not just leaving it in the ground and hoping for the best.

The Challenge

Despite the best efforts of many senior leaders, cascading these principles is often viewed as a one-off:

  • A grand announcement at a town hall
  • Maybe some new designs around the office
  • A couple of workshops

But let’s be honest, that’s not enough. Leaders hold the key to a fundamental shift, a realignment of the company’s heartbeat. If nothing needs to change, why bother refreshing these VMVs at all?

Tip 1 – Say It, Show It, Repeat

When leaders think they have effectively communicated their vision, mission, and core values (VMV), it often turns out insufficient. I like to tell our clients, “When you’re sick of saying it, there’s a chance it finally “ticks.” (Yes, it sounds like nagging parents). Whenever I ask someone to name a memorable tagline, they almost invariably say Nike’s “Just “Do It” and talk about the famous athletes who act as the brand’s ambassadors. This is how advertising works: exposing you to a message frequently enough embeds itself in your memory. Coupled with storytelling from celebrity-status athletes, you resonate with them and their stories. Over the years, when you think of Nike, you associate it with a “Just Do It” attitude, which might inspire you to chase your dream (only if you’re a fan of Nike, of course).

Similarly, think of cascading your VMV as akin to long-term brand-building, but internally. Employees need to hear the message from different perspectives and in various ways, frequently, to truly grasp what is expected of them. When leaders communicate a consistent message over time, they must also provide specific examples of how the mission has been brought to life and aligns with the vision. For instance, if an organisation’s mission is “to make lives better,” it should share recent successes that exemplify this goal. It’s about showing, not just telling. Show them real instances where their work has made a difference! Keep it authentic and relatable, because that’s what builds trust and credibility.

Furthermore, the actual test of alignment to these core values often comes during challenging times or when making difficult decisions (like laying off people). It’s under these pressures that the genuine adherence to and the practical impact of the VMV can be observed. When employees see that even in tough situations, decisions are made that uphold the company’s core values, it reinforces their trust in the leadership and their commitment to these principles. This consistent alignment helps to solidify the values within the company culture, demonstrating that they are not merely fair-weather ideals but are truly integral organisation’s identity and everyday practices.

Tip 2 – Listen to Understand

While a high-level vision, mission, and core values (VMV) might inspire, they can often seem abstract, especially to those outside leadership positions. This disconnect becomes more pronounced when lower-level employees need to implement these values without clearly understanding how they translate into daily operations. The situation worsens if the culture has yet to foster an environment of psychological safety where employees feel secure enough to express doubts or disagreements about these core values.

To ensure that your organisation’s VMV resonates at every level, you must gauge whether your employees truly embrace these ideals. If you’re uncertain about employee buy-in, you can employ several practical tools:

  1. Anonymous Surveys: Conduct surveys that allow employees to anonymously share their true feelings and thoughts about the organistion’s VMV. Anonymity encourages honesty, especially in sensitive areas.
  2. Frequent Check-Ins with Line Managers: Encourage regular conversations between employees and their direct supervisors to help surface misunderstandings or resistance that might not appear in more formal evaluations.
  3. Management by Walking Around (MBWA): Senior leaders should informally walk through the office, engaging with employees spontaneously and discussing issues and ideas on the spot. This method breaks down barriers between different organisational levels and allows leaders to gather unfiltered feedback.

Being at a desk can isolate leaders, as they are surrounded by data that might not reflect employees’ on-ground realities. By stepping out and engaging directly, leaders can understand the nuances of how their VMV is perceived and implemented.

Listening to understand rather than reply is crucial in these interactions. Leaders should digest feedback without preconceptions or defensiveness, ask clarifying questions, and consider how the feedback can lead to meaningful changes. This active listening can reveal the root causes of disconnects between stated values and everyday experiences.

Finally, leaders must take corrective measures based on this feedback. More than collecting information is required; the feedback must lead to action. Whether it involves adjusting the communication of the VMV to make it more relatable, providing additional training to bridge gaps in understanding, or revisiting the VMV itself to ensure they are realistic and attainable, these actions demonstrate a commitment to aligning the organisation’s aspirations with its everyday practices. With genuine employee buy-in, an organisation can achieve coherence in its culture and, ultimately, on its path to success.

Tip 3 – Encourage and Discourage

One illustrative example from my consulting work involves a department head who, despite consistently receiving poor engagement scores from his team, remained in his position due to his operational efficiency. This scenario underscores the delicate balance between maintaining performance standards and cultivating the right company culture. It’s a common dilemma: How do you weigh tangible results against intangible yet critical “soft” metrics?

To address this effectively, larger organizations should adopt a comprehensive performance appraisal system that measures operational success and how well each upholds the organization’s core values. This approach ensures that performance evaluations are holistic, considering both quantitative results and qualitative contributions to the company’s ethos.

When setting up this performance appraisal system, it’s essential to include specific metrics that reflect cultural alignment. Consider incorporating factors such as employee engagement scores, peer review feedback, and company standards adherence. These metrics provide a more rounded view of an individual’s performance, emphasizing the importance of cultural contributions alongside operational achievements.

Linking career progression and recognition to these metrics is critical. By connecting promotions and accolades to an individual’s alignment with core values, the organization reinforces the significance of these principles. This strategy motivates all employees, not just those in leadership positions, to aim for operational excellence while acting as stewards of the company culture.

However, tough decisions might be necessary when any employee consistently needs to align with these values despite support and guidance, regardless of their role. Options could range from adjusting their role to minimise negative impacts on team culture to, in more severe cases, considering separation from the company. Such decisions, while challenging, are sometimes essential to maintain the integrity of the organisation’s vision, mission, and core values.

Implementing such measures underscores a firm commitment to maintaining a strong company culture, signalling to all employees that upholding core values is encouraged and expected. This approach ensures that the company’s foundational principles are integrated into every aspect of its operations and upheld by everyone, securing a healthy, aligned workplace environment.

For smaller organisations, implementing a comprehensive performance appraisal system that aligns with the company’s core values can seem daunting due to limited resources and personnel. They can scale it down, for example, by implementing simplified, more frequent performance reviews that focus on core values as much as operational metrics. These reviews can be less formal but should still be structured enough to provide clear feedback and objectives. The key is consistency.

Final Word

Cascading vision, mission and values can be daunting, but they can create buy-in throughout the entire organisation if done correctly. Please don’t leave it to chance. Start small and gradually increase the scope of your cascade as you go along. Be sure to involve employees at all levels to get their input and ownership of the vision, mission and values. You have won half the battle in building a successful corporate brand when you do this well. Don’t aim for perfection as it is not possible to align everyone especially if you have a large workforce size, there are evangelists just as there are saboteurs. Aim for progress.

Now, I turn the spotlight over to you. How do you connect with your organisation’s vision mission and values? What processes or practices help you internalise and actively embody these principles? Or if you’re in charge of the process of cascading, what has worked?

Written by Catherine Chai – founder of Broc Consulting