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Why have Vision and Mission Statements? Just give stuff away randomly

I like the story Ricardo Semler tells about how he was teaching leadership to a class of corporate CEOs at Harvard and asked them to all write down on a piece of card their company values and put it on the desk in front of them. When they went out for coffee, he moved all the cards around. When they came back, it took them a while to realize the cards had been moved because, guess what…They were substantially the same.

Using the triptych of Vision, Mission and Values to try and set a distinct course that sets your organization apart has become an industry. And few people seem to notice that the values are interchangeable. Which is why the UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s “It’s our values that make us different” doesn’t actually make sense. Their values aren’t any different from half a dozen other big company values.

A universal set of values doesn’t set you apart

Because, surprise, surprise, when you ask your workforce in a consultation exercise, so that you can distil out the values they will put hand on heart to and try to live each day…you end up with largely the same values as every other company. They are human values, common to all of us.

Yes, they need to be injected into large organizations and lived by. But, don’t think they will make you appear much different from anyone else.  Because everyone’s doing it.

So, the usual question applies: What else you got? That makes you distinctive, different, preferred as an employer, for customers, investors and the rest of us?

Give stuff away unexpectedly

I ordered a floor lamp and inside the packaging was a packet of free biscuits/cookies with a note saying ‘a little gift from us. Hope you like the lamp.’ That made an impression on me in a way that no amount of vision, mission and values statements will.

Similarly, I ordered something small from an Amazon marketplace supplier and in the package was a little pack of candy – funny chewy teeth! No note, just that little extra. And CD Baby and their “Anything else you want? Just ask?” … leading to the now famous video of the customer who asked for a squid and received it (!) (thanks to the brilliant founder, Derek Sivers ) … that’s a largely unremarked trend that creates the difference and the ‘preferredness’ that all the high-faluting consultant-driven Mission, Vision, Values will never really get near.

Give stuff away unexpectedly. Unrelated to your product even. It’s what will get you remembered and preferred. And that’s what it’s all about in an over-crowded market where customers are resistant to all of the corporate jargon and management speak and judge you by your actions.

The Gift Society is making a comeback

We are teetering on a post-capitalist world according to some. I don’t think so. I think capitalism is just evolving. And part of that evolution is incorporating practices from pre-capitalist ‘gift’ societies. See The Gift, a powerful, intense, beautifully-argued book (but so intense I’ve never been able to get through more than half of it) for clues.

Links to look into this more deeply

Here’s a link to Marcel Mauss’s original book The Gift, described on Wikipedia

And here’s a link to the beautifully written book of the same name by Lewis Hyde. Beware, it is so densely packed with Hyde’s poetic but forensic analysis that I occasionally had to stop and come up for air as I felt I was drowning.

And here’s an old post on The Leadership Hub that is still relevant if you want more on Vision, Mission and Values (yawn).

Phil Dourado




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