Thursday, August 11, 2011

You Don’t Have a Vision or Mission Until You Feel the Burn

We discussed the inevitability of pain if one is to grow and change. This feeling is also one of the indicators that we are actually deploying our vision or mission.
Visions and Missions are Great…
Put simply, any vision or mission is going to sound really good. We are all for Mom and Dad, truth, justice, goodwill towards man, peace on earth, etc. It does not cost anything to say this.
Most corporate visions and missions are similar. Yes…we value our customers. Yes…our employees are our most valuable resource. Yes…we seek to maximize shareholder value. Yes…we want to be the best or top quartile performer. Who could be against any of these things?
…But What Happens When the Rubber Hits the Road?
It is only when we are willing to sacrifice, to give something up, to undertake an arduous journey that we discover whether we really mean it or not.
How often have we heard of the company whose “employees are our most valuable asset” make across the board layoffs, curtail training and development, or eliminate bonuses and perks? Sure, times are tough when these decisions are made. But, if the employees were truly the most valuable, wouldn’t we expect to see cost curtailment in other areas, elimination of other programs?
There is an old phrase that come to mind…
“Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is”
The example most often pointed out is Johnson & Johnson in the 80’s. They had a vision and mission that their customer’s health and well-being was the ultimate objective. When someone started sneaking into supermarkets and spiking some of the Tylenol product with poison, J&J tool all Tylenol off the shelves everywhere. All the lawyers said this was not an action required to shield them from liability, but they went ahead and did it anyway…because it was the only action consistent with the mission.
It cost J&J millions and millions of dollars to take this course of action. This is willingness to sacrifice for what you believe in!
Feel the Burn
This phrase is taken from exercise regimes – we are not lifting enough weights or running far enough unless we “feel the burn”, i.e. some pain or discomfort.
Until we experience some of these feelings in order to implement our vision or mission, it really is an empty promise. We have not faced the trial by fire.
Are there times when implementing a vision or mission does not require this - sure. But there will come a time when it does, and running away from the consequences of sticking with it will undo decades of work.
Are there rational reasons that will allow us to alter the vision? Yes. How about - our employees are our greatest asset, but this is an exceptionally long and deep recession.
Or, we have already cut everywhere else, but we still need more, so some layoffs are on the table. Sounds reasonable? “Yes, we understand why you are doing this”. Do we believe that employees are your most valuable asset? “Not anymore”.
Walking the Talk
I knew a guy who ran a construction company - he kept his entire payroll employed during a very severe and prolonged recession. Sometimes they did not have anything to do.
Could he have saved a few bucks by laying them off? Yes.
Would most “practical” business-folk approve? Yes.
Would it be “reasonable” to make an exception in this case? Yes.
Would his employees ever believe he stood behind them 100%? No.
This may be dumb or it may be smart – it depends on the value we place on it, and its order in our list of priorities.
But if we are going to talk about our “employees are the most valuable asset…blah, blah, blah” this man backed it up with action that few would dare to take.
I would love to hear your thoughts about visions and missions or your stories on this topic if you have them.
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