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Values Are Learned In the Halls, Not Off the Walls. Entrepreneurs can't afford to let their mission, values and vision slip into banality.

By Phil La Duke Edited by Frances Dodds

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Once upon a time someone proposed a management systems approach to making companies more successful. Conventional wisdom held that companies that had clearly defined corporate missions, vision statements, and values held a significant advantage over others that did lacked these philosophies. The idea seemed so revolutionary and ingenious that companies rushed to create these ideological statements, but sadly, as is so often the case, what was a great idea was poorly executed.

Related: Inspire Employee Loyalty With Recognition Rooted in Company Values

Many companies came to believe that creating these documents was enough; that if an organization merely reminded its workers enough that these ideas would take root and grow. The C-suite demanded that statements be hastily crafted by marketing, framed and hung on the wall presumably so that all who enter could rest assured that the company was not run by complete sociopaths.

There's no arguing that a company with no vision is not likely to be successful and clearly having a mission is important as your mission is synonymous with your purpose for existing. Perhaps even more importantly, without values a company would presumably have no unified basis for decision-making; no yardstick against which workers can measure the tough ethical and business decisions necessary to be successful.

Unfortunately, in many cases a company's mission, vision statement and values had little to do with what was really important to the company. Rather, they were merely what the C-suite believed their customers wanted to hear. These statements were framed and hung in corporate lobbies and board rooms like Louis Wain paintings and bore little resemblance to how the company or acted on a daily basis. The hypocrisy of having two sets of values -- the ones on the walls versus the ones in the halls demoralized and disillusioned the employees.

Related: The 8 Values Every Company Should Live By

Some may wonder if something is truly a value, i.e. a belief so deeply rooted in one's personality that one might struggle to define it, why one would need to frame it and hang it on the wall? True values are hardwired into one's subconscious and while we may not always life in accordance with our values we always aspire to do so.

Entrepreneurs can't afford to let their mission, values and vision slip into banality. If an entrepreneur loses site of why the business exists, what the organization hopes to accomplish and the ethical parameters by which everyone at the company make decisions, then there is little hope for success.

Companies cannot fix a misalignment between its values and its business decisions by festooning the walls (or more likely the website) with posters but in making these sentiments manifest in the business norms. Words pasted on poster board can never have the same impact as a CEO who lives the company values daily. When leaders live the values than others in the organization either emulate those leaders or leave the organization for companies that are more attuned to their personal moral code.

Related: How Strong Company Values Build the Team Fledgling Startups Need

That's not to say that all entrepreneurs need to want to save the world. Not only is it okay to make money, it's also important to make money. Money is the life's blood of an entrepreneurship, but how we make money is just as important the amount of money we make. A sustainable organization must develop a workforce that understands and espouses the organizational values and that begins by demanding that everyone from the C-suite to the temp agency understands how the values manifest into behaviors on the job.

Phil La Duke

Safety Iconoclast

Phil LaDuke is is a partner at Environmental Resources Management. An author, he writes about business, worker safety and organizational change topics on his blog. An avid user of social media for business networking, LaDuke has worked as a consultant in this area. 

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