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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.

I guess you’ve heard it thousands of times. We have no time for this. We are stretched. We are busy. We are doing more with less. We are in a survival mode.

Give me a break. There is no such thing as “no time”. It is merely a matter of getting your priorities straight. If you don’t have the time for something, you either don’t want it or are afraid of it or just don’t think it’s important enough.

I spoke to a consultant yesterday who needed an advice on setting vision, mission and values for a shared services organization. I was happy to provide an advice to a colleague, since I have been known to get this objective accomplished in just 45 minutes.  As I was outlining the process for her, I suggested a half-day group meeting with the organization’s top officers.

My colleague told me that she was told upfront that such a meeting would not be possible due to the fact that these people are too busy.

This is an incredibly pathetic excuse and a sign of a lost organization desperately needing help. If the management cannot set aside half a day to work on what very well may be the most important thing, the guiding framework of their organization, they either don’t see it as a priority (incompetence, should be dismissed for this reason) or oppose the change (sabotaging decisions of their superior, should be dismissed for this reason).

There is no such thing as “no time.” Get your priorities right and you will find time. I promise.

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