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Giving Just Lip Service to Your Values and Vision Is a Lot Like Not Having Values or Vision Company leaders must align, define, practice and enforce their values and vision every day to create a culture of success.

By Aviva Leebow Wolmer Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Klaus Vedfelt | Getty Images

Whether you work for a spunky startup or a century-old corporation, a little digging is likely to unearth a list of core values, a vision or both. These materials are intended to guide a company's leadership decisions and business practices, much like a lighthouse helps seafarers avoid ending up on the craggy rocks.

Intent does not always carry into action, however. This is especially true for businesses that defy two crucial facets: the vision, which speaks to a company's identity and mission; and values, the behaviors and beliefs that support it.

If you're the kind of leader who only pays lip service to your vision and values, you're not just lost at sea -- you're willfully rowing in the other direction. Without thorough enforcement from top to bottom, these guidelines are nothing but icing on a hollow, cardboard cake.

Before setting out on a voyage toward disruption, leaders must make sure their companies have systems in place to support their vision and values from the inside out.

Here are three ways your company can keep its vision and values strong, even as you steer into the turbulent winds of change.

Know who you are and what you want.

When I stepped into the role of CEO at my company, the first thing I did was publish a Vivid Vision that outlines our direction and goals. The Vivid Vision maps out who we are and what we want to be. As such, it is the foundation for everything we do. No behavior, action or belief that follows is arbitrary. It all circles back to the Vision.

Knowing who you are and what you want is one thing. Telling the world is another, and in this stage you must be consistent internally as well as externally. We shared the Vivid Vision with our suppliers, customers, visitors and even competitors. Only when our entire industry knows what we're trying to accomplish can its other players help get us there.

A transparent and totally cohesive vision sets a strong precedent for the values to follow. Building a vision is an opportunity to bake them both into your business model -- it really puts the "core" into "core values."

Related: How Establishing Core Values Drives Success

The organic food chain sweetgreen is one example of a company with a stellar vision. Its mission statement answers not only who sweetgreen is and what its people want but also how the business model makes it all happen. That statement reads: "Because here at sweetgreen, impact is not an arm of our business, it is our business, and it permeates everything we do, from what we source to who we hire and how we support local communities."

Like any good vision, sweetgreen's mission illustrates a unified plan and explains how every action ties into that strategy. The concrete nature of sweetgreen's mission adds meaning.

Breathe life and behavior into values.

While many companies have core values, my company does not. There's a solid reason why: Values often can be vague -- easy to boast but difficult to pin down in reality. For example, "integrity" is a commonly held value in today's corporate world and cited by giants as diverse as American Express and Barnes & Noble. But what does it actually mean? How does it look from day to day? Here are two more samples:

  • Adidas: "We are honest, open, ethical and fair. People trust us to adhere to our word."
  • Genentech: "Integrity means we are consistently open, honest, ethical and genuine."

As you can see, each company defines "integrity" in relation to its work. Fleshing out values like this may seem rudimentary, but you'd be surprised by the difference semantics can make in the workplace and beyond.

There's nothing wrong with traditional values, per se, but we decided to take a different approach. We've pared down our company values to identify 20 fundamental behaviors that represent them. We outline it all in a document called "The Pacesetter Way." We expect our Pacesetter Associates will strive to follow the "Way" in everything they do. We've published the document on our website, and we regularly hand it out to customers, suppliers and visitors.

Related: Do Your Suppliers Like You?

These behaviors aren't just words on a wall. Our weekly huddles and emails focus on one behavior each week, and we start all major meetings discussing one of the 20. We also encourage one another to consistently follow these behaviors and act as a guide for any teammate who strays from the path.

Lead, train and enforce.

Developing a vision and clear values/behaviors to support it isn't enough. The real key lies in leadership's ability and willingness to live by example. At my company, C-suite members and all managers use values or behaviors in regular discussions, coaching sessions, performance meetings and more.

Aside from embedding values/behaviors into training exercises and modeling the culture they want to live, leaders can use these concepts to help inform hiring decisions. Online retailer Zappos is built around the idea that if you get the culture right, success will follow. Zappos bases all hiring decisions on its core values and reinforces this environment with its annual, employee-written culture book. Zappos also enforces mandatory (and fun) training workshops and encourages merit-based raises and promotions.

Related: 7 Ways to Build Credibility, Trust and Character That Will Grow Your Business

When you see this level of commitment from an organization, you'll recognize it. I first encountered Silverton Mortgage as a customer, and the company's incredible service was evidence that their people live and breathe the same culture. Lo and behold, the lending business has outlined a core foundation called the Silverton Bricks. Know that when you truly do justice to your vision and values, they're reflected in a culture felt by your partners, customers and competitors.

Sometimes it takes outside help to get the ball rolling. I've always admired David Friedman of High Performing Culture (HPC), who originally developed the Fundamentals System (a collection of behaviors) for employee-benefits company RSI. When RSI was acquired, Friedman created HPC as a conduit to teach these concepts to other companies and individuals. Today, he helps all sorts of companies align company culture with vision and values.

What it means for you.

Whether you call your core tenets values, behaviors or something else entirely, understand that customers feel most engaged (and buy more) when they believe they share common goals with the company. If you truly want to do right by your team and your customers, you must reinforce your values every day. For Pacesetter, that's meant redefining values as behaviors that fit within our larger vision.

No one is perfect, and every company will experience hiccups when it comes to execution. Still, it's worth every bit of effort to implement strong safeguards that keep your vision and values afloat so you can move full steam ahead.

Related: 4 Simple Techniques to Hone Your Message

Aviva Leebow Wolmer

CEO of Pacesetter

Aviva Leebow Wolmer is the CEO of Pacesetter Steel Services, an innovative steel distributor with a unique focus on technology, talent, and strong family culture. Her vibrant, technology-driven take on American manufacturing services has made her a pioneer in the steel industry and serves as a model for innovation in traditionally antiquated fields of business. Follow Aviva on Twitter!

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