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Walking in uptown Toronto, I spotted a pink van with outlines of scantily (if at all) clad women. It belonged to a strip bar, located nearby. The establishment’s strikingly bland corporate vision appeared in large lettering on the hood of the vehicle: “Leading the way.”
Why a strip bar felt compelled to have a meaningless mission statement is beyond me, but in most organizational settings, vision, mission and values provide a common framework within which decisions across the organization should be made. For start-ups, Guy Kawasaki talks about a notion of a mantra, a succinct statement which relays what the company wants to become and how it would go about it.
Take Maple Leaf Foods for example. Last year, an outbreak of listeriosis was linked to one of its deli plants. The organization subscribes to “doing right things” and acting with transparency, and so it did throughout this ordeal. Michael McCain was there in the front of the cameras, gave frequent updates, worked with health authorities, and did everything necessary to rectify the problem. Upfront, transparent, doing what’s right, he was lauded for his handling of the crisis.
It is no surprise for anyone that corporate statements are often met with cynicism, being viewed as lip service rather than a genuine commitment. This happens because the actions of an organization appear to be in a dissonance with the words it ostensibly tries to live by.
In a way of an example, I know of a worldwide organization which subscribes to a notion of being a trusted partner to its customers – on its website. In the cafeteria, on the other hand, the reality is quite different. Seat next to the people who face customers every day and you will witness the pronounced “us against them” sentiment, far away from the desired spirit of partnership.
A colleague told me about his experience consulting with a hospital which ostensibly had “Respecting our employees” as one of its values. In reality, there was no such thing in place and the management exercised the same ”us against them” attitude toward the staff.
If you are a corporate leader and you want to see your corporate statements viewed as genuine, support them with action, not words.
Do what you say. Then, say what you do.
Leadership is about doing right things, according to Peter Drucker, and no one has defined it better than him.
I encounter situations where the “right things” are known well, yet the person responsible for “doing” them cannot bring him- or herself to taking the high road.
“We don’t do it like this around here, it is not in our culture”
“Our people are not accustomed to this approach”
“It is difficult and might hurt us”
“We cannot do this because we have never done anything like this before”
“There will be resistance”
You get the drift. All sorts of reasons, mostly historical and cultural are pulled out by weak “leaders” to justify inaction and suboptimal decisions. Real leaders (note, no quotation marks) choose to do right things and don’t look for lame excuses. And the high road is the only road.
Today, the Speaker of the British House of Commons, Michael Martin, resigned after repeated calls from all political parties to step down.
Martin is the first Speaker to be ousted since 1695 (yes, in over 300 years).
If the British House of Commons can break 300 odd years of protocol and do the right thing, why can’t you ?