Effective leadership of cultural change is enabled by clear communication of cultural values and priorities.
One of the greatest challenges of guiding
cultural change, development, or stability, is
influencing the organization to follow the same
guiding principles, to understand the values
and priorities, and to make choices consistent
with how we want the culture to operate.
The key to reaching every part of the organization is clear communication, and one of the
most effective ways to do this is with a clear
vision, mission, principles, or goal statements.
The vision should clearly communicate to all
personnel what it is we want the organization
to be, and should explain the organization’s
focus. Ultimately, we want every employee to
use our vision, mission, and values to guide
his or her every decision.
If we are going to expect every employee
to be guided by our vision, mission, and goal
statements, then those statements must be
effective. They must be clear, meaningful, and
Here are some example statements bor-
rowed from a food services organization for
public schools. The vision statement reads:
“We will serve every child, every day.”
I like it. It is easy to recall, it gets a person’s
attention, and it compels one to imagine the
ultimate achievement of the organization. It
implies a future where every student voluntari-
ly elects to eat the school’s lunch, instead of
bringing one from home. In the meantime, it is
clear that every child is deserving of service,
Note that there is not much to it, but that
doesn’t stop it from painting an effective pic-
ture of what is desired.
Less is more when
it comes to vision
ment is less effec-
tive. It reads:
“The team of
[organization’s name] supports
student achievement through . . .
• Quality, nutritious meals
• A positive and safe environment
• Promotion of student wellness
• A commitment to continuous
• Financial accountability”
I like the fact that it is posted as a bullet list
instead of a paragraph, but it’s a bit much to
If the poster were mine, I might rephrase it
• Provide quality, nutritious meals
• Keep a positive and safe
• Promote student wellness
• Assure financial accountability
• Continuously improve”
It keeps the same five critical achievements,
but it is easier to remember. If it’s easier to
recite, it’s easier to enforce and easier to
recall when we need it.
Posters should be short and sweet, so
just a vision and mission statement is best.
Goals can have their own poster. If we want
to put goals on a poster for everyone to see,
then they should be simplified into something
equally memorable and meaningful.
The poster includes eight guiding princi-
ples, the upper end of any list of goals or prin-
ciples we want on a poster. One of the eight
guiding principles says:
“We will help each other be right not wrong;
we will help each other succeed, not fail.”
It is a good statement of one of the orga-
nization’s values and what correct behavior
is, and in many ways, these guiding principle
statements can be as useful for driving culture
as the vision and mission statements. The
challenge is that the more guidance informa-
tion we have to communicate, the more work
it is to get everyone in the organization to
Let me borrow an example from another
“We are committed to quality products, inno-
vative designs, and comprehensive services,
which exceed our customer’s expectations.
We value and maintain a safe and healthy
We will aggressively reinvest in our people
and products, promote open communications,
and demand the highest ethical standards in
all our relationships.”
The short simple statements above encom-
pass a wide spectrum of vision, mission, and
values without necessarily using those words.
The last statement breaks a few of the
rules that I normally try to follow, but I think it
has done so meaningfully. I avoid adjectives
because they are fluff. However, the words,
“aggressively reinvest,” carry a meaningful
a cultural value
that reinvesting in people
the last statement uses
the word, “all,”
before relationships. The
word, “all” can
and left out.
In the case
of the “all our
relationships,” phrase of the statement above,
I believe it serves a purpose.
Here are some short tips for making your
own mission statements:
• Revise, revise, revise; simplify the statements down to the maximum meaning and
clarity with the minimum of words.
• Screen for words and phrases that are
implicit; if the phrase is understood without
the words, eliminate the words.
• Short lists of short phrases are easier to
read and remember than paragraphs.
• Avoid adjectives, adverbs, and prepositional
phrases unless they genuinely add implicit
• A lot of information in one place will turn
away the eye; a brief statement in your face
will catch the eye.
• Work to capture your values and principles
in your statements without adding words.
• If you have many different guidelines to
communicate, give each element or group
its own venue.
Driving cultural development, or maintaining
cultural stability in the face of change is hard.
It is also critically important. Make it easier
by carefully designing vision, mission, and
guiding principle statements to clearly convey
meaningful guidance. The more effectively
the statements convey the cultural values and
preferred behaviors, the easier it will be for
leaders to drive the desired behaviors.
Stay wise, friends.
If you like what you just read, find more of
Alan’s thoughts at www.bizwizwithin.com
By Alan Nicol