Clarity At The Core

Does your organiztion have a clear purpose? Do the people you serve see you as important to their business or to their lives? Does every customer and every employee clearly understand your purpose? The purpose of an organization is clarified in the mission, vision, and operating principles. I call this grouping the core message of an organization. If this core message isn’t clarified and deeply embedded, then it is likely people in your organization are operating on their own. This is a recipe for conflict, confusion, and chaos.

Most organizations have a mission. Do all of your employees and customers know your mission? Do your employees live it? Do they see it being carried out in daily decision making, work processes, and communications? Your mission is about what you do and who you do it for. This means that every decision, every work process, and every interaction is consciously aimed at providing valuable service to customers.

Every employee needs to understand the organization mission and the part s/he plays in making it happen. Every employee should have a personal mission that is congruent with the organization mission. A mission focuses our thinking and behavior. It also offers each person a sense of importance. People are not only coming to work to earn a pay check, but to do something important that benefits others.

The vision is where you want to go. The vision is about the level at which you will be accomplishing the mission. It may include an expansion of the mission to serve a larger market, with higher quality and more services. The vision adds excitement and challenge to what we do. If your organization has a vision, is every member enrolled in it?

We enroll people in the vision by getting them engaged as key players in making it happen. We can engage them by asking them to tell us how they can help the organization realize the vision. Inherent in the visioning process is a deep belief on the part of the visionaries (you) that the people in your organization are capable of greatness. The people in your organization are not the vehicles through which you get your vision. They are the vision. They are the people operating at the level of success that you have imagined for them. As a leader you encourage, teach, and give feedback to help them see themselves succeeding at this high level.

The operating principles, or values, tell us how we do things in order to accomplish our mission and realize our vision. Operating principles bring consistency to an organization. An example of an operating principle is: “We will treat every person as a Very Important Person, without any conditions”. As we navigate through our day this principle becomes a question. “Am I treating this person as a V.I.P.? Did I treat that person as a V.I.P.? If I did not, how can I repair the situation?”

The act of creating operating principles does not guarantee behavior that is aligned with the mission and vision. When fear or anger take over, good intentions tend to evaporate. Poor behavior is then justified as necessary to get the job done. An operating principle is a behavioral standard, a nonnegotiable expectation regarding the kind of “service” we offer to each other as well as to our customers. When a person’s behavior falls short of the standard, it is an opportunity to provide constructive feedback. When a person acts in ways consistent with the operating principles, it is an opportunity to provide positive feedback. Clear operating principles paired with accountability will create an environment that consistently ensures success.

The mission, vision, and operating principles make up the core of an organization. This core must be the driving force in all decision making and interactions with people. Internally driven organizations are strong, trustworthy, and focused. There is a sense of stability regardless of external conditions. As a customer, I can trust this organization to do the right thing and to do its best to help me. As an employee I can trust this organization to be fair and consistent. Employees see themselves as part of the organization and are willing to help.

Without a strong core, organizations become weak, inconsistent, and chaotic. With no clarity about direction or values, there is always a sense of instability. This is especially true during difficult times. Members feel little or no trust, and expect the organization to try take advantage. Employees see themselves as separate from the organization and feel powerless. We find this weakened state in organizations that focus only on surviving. Organizations that operate without a clear purpose are organizations that have forgotten who they are. A strong core message is a declaration of intent, an abiding purpose.

The steps in creating a strong core message are clear, but not easy. They are as follows:
1. Create the mission, vision, and operating principles. Make sure they are consistent with each other. Some kind of consensus process is important. Everyone in the organization does not have to be involved in the creation of these documents. A representative leadership group will do. There is opportunity at the departmental and individual levels for participation from everyone.
2. Leaders need to start living the words they have created. Current policies and processes should be measured by the standards implied in the core message. Ways of treating people must be examined. Every leader needs to reflect and ask for feedback from others.
3. Employees need to be enrolled by communicating these core statements to them, and asking for their ideas on what needs to happen. Employees can give feedback on work processes, management behavior, and morale. They can be involved in creating new processes and solving problems.
4. Issues and fears must be addressed at all levels. That which is not talked about needs to be talked about. Honesty with compassion is the best policy.

The inside creates the outside. A powerful core message will create a powerful structure in an organization. People will be guided to relate in healthy ways toward each other. Powerful structure and positive relationships will create an organization to which people want to belong. Pride in belonging and in purposeful work done well will be encouraged. Passion for the mission and vision will create enthusiasm. Most of us know it is important that we as individuals know who we are. It is just as important that an organization knows what it is, where it’s going, and what it can be. This will result in customers who clearly understand your value to them.