One of our favorite examples is Medtronic, one of the world’s leading medical technology firms (Academy of Management Executive, 2001). The firm’s former CEO, William George, worked tirelessly to ensure the organization lived its vision of “restoring people to fuller lives by alleviating pain, restoring health and extending life.” Symbols and traditions played an important role in helping all employees fully understand what this vision was all about. One was the mission and medallion ceremony. Here, the CEO met with each new employee, explained the firm’s vision and values, and then presented them with a medallion showing a person getting up from an operating table with the words “toward a full life” inscribed on the medallion. The new employee was encouraged to keep the medallion at his/her desk as a constant reminder of what the firm was all about.
For Medtronic, celebrations were also important. At the annual holiday party, every year six patients were invited to share their stories of healing that Medtronic technology had made possible. For all employees, this was a vivid reminder of the firm’s vision and values. The bottom line: Every employee knew what the firm was aspiring to become, and what was important in the process.
In a real sense, what we do in the feed and grain industry, providing food, feed, fuel and fiber for our world, is just as fundamental as Medtronic’s focus on healing (perhaps even more so). So, the question for the feed and grain manager is how do you 1) help every employee from day 1 understand and embrace your vision and values and 2) how do you vividly remind your team that what they do is important?
Along this line, don’t dismiss simple ways of communicating vision and values and overcomplicate the process. If you have been inclusive and authentic in developing your statements, acronyms, cards, signs, etc. you can play a role in communicating and reminding. At the same time, if, as a manager, you don’t think this option works for you, don’t go down this path. Cutesy sayings, TEAM acronyms, motivational posters, etc. that don’t ring authentic, are simply going to be fodder for jokes around the coffee pot.
Character expression and image positioning
Let’s wind up with some thoughts on how vision and values should be communicated outside the firm. One of our favorite ways of looking at this was put forward by Peter Laundy in an Inc. magazine article some years ago (1993). In the article, Laundy described two kinds of firms — the firm that uses what he calls “image positioning,” and the firm that “expresses character.”
As an illustration, firms pursuing image positioning would decide that great service was important to customers, invest a lot of money advertising how great their service was, then do some surveys to see if customers really thought their service was great.
Firms that express their corporate character work hard to understand what delivering great service truly means, make sure they do all the things inside the firm that it takes to deliver great service (hiring, training, systems, etc.), then actually go about the business of trying to deliver great service to their customers. As the quality of their service gets noticed (expressing their character), the word starts to get around the market that this firm does things right. Only after the firm really does have it right do they start tooting their own horn — if they even need to do this!
You get the point: Vision and values are really internal ideas. In the end, your customers shouldn’t have to read your values on a web-site or on the wall of your rest room — they should be apparent when dealing with your organization. Firms that get their words ahead of their actions are not likely to get the reception they want from their customers as most customers have had it with empty promises.
Yes, it is a busy time. But, winter and annual planning cycles are coming. Take some time this fall to watch how your firm goes about its business.
Revisit and remember your vision statement as the winter meeting cycle cranks up. Give serious thought to engaging your employees in a dialogue about your vision and values.
That dialogue could be the first step for a more engaged, energized set of employees, and a real leg up in your market.