WIG CEO Blog July 2020 - Values - what's in a name?

Aims, purpose, vision, values, ethos, mission, behaviours, codes... the distinction varies and can be hazy and the terms can mean different things to different organisations. Nevertheless, unless some clarity is achieved, and more importantly driven both internally and externally into an organisation, then the right culture can rarely flourish. Normally it seems that Vision (what constitutes success), Purpose (why you exist), Mission (what is required to get to Vision) are underwritten by values (what is important) ethos (guiding beliefs) and underpinned by behaviours, steered by codes of conduct. 

Phew, that’s that then. Well, not quite. A glance through a dozen corporate or other organisational ‘glossies’ will show that often vision gets mixed up with purpose, and mission with purpose, values bleed into behaviours and the whole thing can often defy the clarity the exercise is designed to provide. There is another potential problem. Words are just that and if no action sits behind them, or worse – they are seen as window dressing, then they are liable to generate cynicism rather than enthusiasm and belief.  

The needs of an organisation and those of their customers or stakeholders are rarely the same and so approaches differ. However, it seems sensible to select something that talks of a future aim and defines success. WIG is a charity, so we have a purpose. Almost by definition for a charity our vision would be not to have to exist, so we left that blank. For us a mission was next. A mission statement is useful in stitching lofty aspirations to something more tangible and deliverable. It forms the ‘so what?’ layer. Next, we felt that values were vital but that ethos, like culture, was something that arrived as a product and that values were easier to define. Lastly, we thought behaviours were a useful guide in driving values but didn’t want to confuse the two. For instance, choosing “open-minded, creative and trusted” means integrity sits under behaviours. As a result, we decided our culture would grow to deliver our purpose through our mission, supported and enabled by four things: behaviours, values, leadership and an engaged team. Others put it simpler, for instance Purpose, Values, Code of Conduct.  

There is a happy medium for all organisations. Having a purpose of “the world’s best ice cream” linked to a value of “moving forward” and behaviours of “let’s just do this thing” might work in a certain context, but generally properly supported values and behaviours sitting on real efforts around leadership and team engagement will deliver the culture, which we all know eats strategy for breakfast before moving on to the main course of delivering the vision (or purpose… or aim…or..) . 

Our team has done practical work to embed our values and ‘manifest’ the culture we aim for. Some of these initiatives revolved around our environmental aspirations (a work stream to make WIG greener), an Innovation work stream (to push ahead with creative ways of delivering our purpose) and a platform to exchange resources around BLM (to live one of our key values, being ‘open-minded’). I look forward to learning how our members have sought to drive their culture to suit their aspirations and our changing times.