To achieve long-term success, organizations must focus the appropriate amount of attention on Mission, Vision, and Values, my simple definitions of which are:

Mission – the focus of our current efforts and the reason we exist (purpose)
Vision – the greatness to which we aspire or what we are committed to becoming
Values – the beliefs that we turn into behavior or our “Code of Conduct”

It is challenging to articulate and communicate all three of these, but I believe that Values present a special challenge. Organizational leaders often do all the work, usually with the help of a consultant. Then they “impose” the results on the rest of the organization, expecting the response to be strong and positive. What they usually get is indifference. This happens primarily because there is no sense of ownership in the process nor results, thus little commitment to either. I have seen Values written so beautifully that reading them “brings tears to my eyes.” However, they had minimal impact on employee behavior.

To avoid this unfortunate consequence, it is important to involve as many employees as is feasible in the conversation about core beliefs. I know how difficult it can be to get a large number of people to agree on a set of beliefs that they are willing to allow to inform and guide their behavior. However, when I am asked to facilitate the development of a set of Values, I use a simple, though not easy, three-step approach.

Step 1: Name it – We must state, in simple and understandable terms, what we believe. This is not the sole purview of organizational leaders. If we expect a critical mass of employees to commit and adhere to a set of Values, we must engage them in conversation about their beliefs and their willingness to act consistent with them when representing the organization. A belief or Value could be named as simply as the fairly well-understood word, “Integrity.”

Step 2: Define it – We must have a common understanding of what the word or phrase we chose means. There are probably as many definitions of Integrity as there are people who would offer one. It is through the sharing of those definitions that we can develop a consensus about what it means in our organization. It might be helpful to start with the dictionary definition of Integrity and customize it from there. This gives us the opportunity to share our understanding of it and its meaning to us personally. This makes developing a consensus definition one of the more exciting, yet most challenging, steps in the process.

Step 3: Describe it – To hold us accountable for adhering to our Values, we must describe Integrity in behavioral terms. We might agree that behaving with Integrity means that we keep our word and honor our commitments. Also, if we over-commit our resources or underestimate what it will take to perform successfully, we notify the person or persons to whom we made the commitment as soon as possible. In this way, we can hold each other accountable for acting with Integrity.

Although the three steps described above are simple, they are not easy. It is difficult to engage a large number of people in this kind of conversation. However, it is worth the effort because Values become a “code of conduct” for current employees and can serve as a tool for screening candidates for employment. For example, if a candidate cannot agree to behave consistent with our Values, then his/her behavior is not likely to be acceptable to us. Therefore, it probably is best to remove him/her from further consideration. This is but two of the many ways that a well-articulated and understood set of Values can serve an organization and its employees.