In early 2020, I began planning a bespoke training programme as part of my role on the Sylfaen Project.
The project, spearheaded by Cynnal Cymru, supported by the Wales Co-operative Centre’s Commercial Team and funded by the Co-op Foundation, aimed to work with a select number of community-led environmental organisations across Wales in order to give them stronger foundations for sustainability.
To my (very much pleasant) surprise, the most popular session by far was on the subject of Vision and Values. The reception was so positive in fact that two community councils who participated in the training requested I re-deliver the session to their board members, with one using it as the basis to go back to basics and set a revised 5-year business plan.
“The Community Councils used the session to question what it considered to be its core values, testing this in context with its constituents and users of community facilities by completing a similar exercise bespoke to our local communities. This has helped in enabling the Councils to challenge conventional ways of working and to plan a work programme based upon newly established values-based aims and objectives.”David Davies, Cwmamman and Llanedi Community Councils.
So, why the need for a rethink?
Many people, companies and community groups underestimate the importance of properly aligned vision and values. Throughout my 20 years’ experience of supporting community organisations and businesses of all shapes and sizes, I’ve read countless business plans, and yet, more often than not, the process of identifying a vision and values is something of an afterthought.
In some cases, a set of relatively meaningless words are shoehorned in to support pre-determined actions. They state what the business or community group are going to do but give very little thought to why they are doing it.
Furthermore, even long-established companies and community organisations with a solid vision can easily get side-tracked. I have also fallen prey to this while working within community groups. Ostensibly golden opportunities can arise, in relation to funding for example, which appear too good to turn down. But, before you know it, these opportunities have deviated your energy away from your original purpose, derailing your mission, giving you less control over your direction and inevitably stifling your efforts to reach your vision!
Purposefully putting your why first
Quite often, what an organisation does takes precedence over why they’re doing it. It should be the other way around. Ethically driven private sector businesses, social enterprises and community groups will invariably have been established for a particular PURPOSE. It’s this purpose which inspires people to engage or otherwise invest their time, energy, and money. This is why it is so important to consistently revaluate vision and values to avoid mission drift, making sure they permeate everything you do.
Consistency is key
“To refresh the world in mind, body and spirit, to inspire moments of optimism and happiness through our brands and actions, and to create value and make a difference”
Did you guess whose mission this is? When I ask this during my sessions, most people guess correctly. For those that can’t quite put their finger on it, this is the mission statement for Coca Cola. Okay, it may be corporate, but the lesson to be learned here is most people guess this mission statement from this single sentence. Why? Because it is imbedded in EVERYTHING they do and solidifies the way they are perceived. Think of any Coca Cola promotion and you’ll struggle to find one without the words ‘happiness’ or ‘refreshing’.
Regardless of our individual perceptions, the consistency and simplicity of their message translates worldwide. You may be far from a big company on a global stage but if you want people to understand, engage with, advocate for and invest in you, your purpose needs to be ever-present and at the forefront of your messaging.
This is echoed in Simon Sinek’s ‘Golden Circle’ theory* where he states that the most inspiring companies start with why they do what they do, then work on how they do it before identifying exactly what they do.
- Vision and Mission Statement: Include your greatest aspiration for your community group or business. Consider WHY you do what you do and why other people will invest time, energy, and money in you.
- Values: This underpins, encapsulates, and promotes your organisation’s culture and beliefs in context with the vision and determines HOW you operate and act to achieve your aims.
- Aims and Objectives: These should state the exact details of WHAT you aim to achieve and how you intend to implement your vision, mission and values in day-to-day practice, all while understanding why you are doing it.
As you may have now guessed, I’m a very strong advocate for people starting their journey by firmly identifying and understanding their vision, mission, values, aims and objectives at the outset. It should not be a retrospective exercise based on what they already do. If the vision and mission doesn’t transcend through every activity and action, your desired impact will soon be diluted. So, my final piece of advice is to regularly take time and space to ask yourself whether what you are currently doing meets your original purpose and never stop asking why!
*(Sinek, S. (2009) Start With Why. Penguin Business)
Paul Stepczak is the Bids and Commercial Consultant within the Wales Co-operative Centre’s Commercial Team and has more than 20 years’ experience working in community and business development, providing consultancy and training to purpose-led organisations.