They’re discussed a lot in terms of their importance in setting a successful strategy, but interpretations of vision and values are often unique to each company and leader. Be the Business digs a little deeper.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management – the world’s largest HR professional society with 285,000 members – a company’s vision, or vision statement as it is commonly called, is forward-looking, and creates a mental image of how the owners would like the company to look in the future.
By comparison, the values of a business, they state, define its core principles that will direct the company and its culture. A values statement provides a “moral compass” that can help when it comes to achieving the vision.
Many businesses have clearly-defined value and vision statements – some also have a mission statement, which might loosely be described as a line or two about why the company exists in the first place – and these are generally perceived to be beneficial. A vision can help a company stay on track, instead of getting distracted, while values can keep it from veering off into nefarious or regrettable practises that would be at loggerheads with the ethics of the company.
Because each are something of an abstract concept, interpretations of vision and values occur in different ways. For some enterprises, they will be the primary drivers behind their business plan. Others will use them as a framework to help guide their staff. Often, it’s a mixture of the two; the important part is to define them.
“Having been in big business before I started my own company,” said Lewis Reeves, founder and CEO at data collection specialists Viga, “I felt that visions and values could sometimes be a bit ‘clunky’. In a big organisation it can feel that the vision and values of the company are not easily influenced by the individual. You can feel disconnected. So what we wanted to do was to make sure that everyone in the company could relate to ours.”
The company’s vision and values, he explained, overlap – and also segue into something else: what he calls the Viga DNA. “Our DNA is to be driven, be nimble and always find a better way,” Reeves added. “Our vision is to empower great people to take clients on a great journey. And our values overlap with the vision, with our people as our number one priority. We have a meritocratic structure where anyone will be listened to and will quite frequently have their idea developed.”
In Reeves’ opinion, a vision can change – especially when a startup’s short-term focus may be on one thing: Viga’s, for example, was proving there was a demand for the business in years one and two. In year three – the company having grown from one person to 65 – the vision became wider-reaching. Reeves argues that a degree of flexibility is essential, because no business owner knows exactly where their journey will take them.
The same can be said of values. As Viga embarks on international expansion, for example, Reeves has noticed significant cultural differences when in different parts of the world; what works in London might not be quite right in Paris or Texas. “We have to ensure that our values are representative across the board,” he commented, “and our DNA underpins that. But we do have to be aware that values can change. I would hope not drastically, but they certainly evolve.”
Vision and values can be written on a piece of paper that is locked away in the company safe, or they can be stored in the founder’s head. Reeves suggested that they permeate through everything a business does, and be part of its culture. He told Be the Business the “empowering the team” aspect of Viga’s vision and values means that employees know their voices will be heard, especially if the business is to expand into new areas.
Part of the fabric
When Aidan Bell and James Brueton were setting up their sustainable building products company EnviroBuild in 2015, they knew from day one that the firm’s very existence would be intertwined with doing something good for the planet.
“A lot of companies, I imagine, grow into their vision and values, but for us it was there from the start,” Bell said. “The vision for us in the long term is to become an online version of B&Q or Travis Perkins, but we want to do it through sustainable products. Our values are to be honest and never mislead people, and beyond that we want to give more back to the planet than James and I have take from it as individuals.”
The EnviroBuild manifesto isn’t written on a plaque on the wall, nor is it emblazoned on company T-shirts. Bell said that, as the business is still relatively new, they can be seen to “walk the walk as opposed to having something written down”.
The message has been sufficiently strong to reap dividends in one significant way: recruitment. “The younger generations coming through are looking for more from work than just a paycheck every month,” said Bell, “and one of the things that we offer is the chance to be a part of something. I think that has hugely aided recruitment because we get people who are driven, who believe in what we’re doing and I think the calibre of recruits is better than if we were just a general building company.”
Just as clear values and vision can make a company attractive to a certain type of person, so too can they result in founders having to wrestle with some difficult decisions – even ones that may end up costing them money. For example, when EnviroBuild first started trading, its main product line was a composite garden decking made of recycled plastic and wood offcuts. Bell feels that artificial grass would have been pretty easy to sell alongside this.
“It’s a booming market and one we think we could have done well in,” he told us, “but we were absolutely against it as a concept as there is nothing sustainable about it. So we don’t sell it. James probably spends half his time trying to source new products that would be suitable for us, and the hard part is not figuring out what we can sell at a profit, but what fits with our values.”
Worth the effort
Business owners who choose not to bother with vision and values perhaps risk reducing their business to a set of numbers on a spreadsheet. If the only reason you are getting out of bed each day is to make some money, you might be missing a trick. Also, without a goal – and something driving it – how do you measure success?
“I think that vision and values are a great yardstick to come back to so that you can see if you’re fulfilling what you wanted to be doing,” said Bell. “And in our case, they’ve certainly helped us to make some important business decisions.”