I admit it… I am a convert.
I became a real believer of the importance and value of the MVV (Mission Vision Values) through the worst way possible -- by experiencing the lack of them. And not only with clients but for myself. Like me, you may have experienced MVV within the context of Corporate America. We would attend the required rah rah sessions, take the tchotchkes and assorted branded stuff that bragged about the organization’s MVV, put it on our desk (until it got pushed back or covered with dust), and probably never thought of it again. What a waste, right?
When I started my own consulting business, I never gave MVV a thought - my mission, simply put, was to get things done! Agility and efficacy would be my middle names…until I started encountering a degree of success. When asked by my clients and referral partners about my ideal client profile, I remember proclaiming, “I’m industry agnostic!”. When asked about what kinds of clients were the best fit for us I would claim that “we can, and do, help everyone!”. We came to realize that some clients were beyond our ability to save. Even when it was time to hire, it was similar. Since I had had so much success in bringing on and managing teams as an employee, I assumed it would be easy to start my own teams! In a vacuum and without the guardrails provided by a well-thought-out and implemented Mission, Vision & Values, hiring a team was a real hit-and-miss experience.
I finally got religion on this when we invested in our own strategic planning session where we defined our mission, vision, and values. We began to strategically pivot away from the clients whose businesses were on fire to ones that were more stable and successful. Instead of taking on clients whose main question was ‘How do we survive?”, we began to cultivate clients whose central question was “How do we overcome obstacles and grow successfully?”As I worked with more and more clients, I became increasingly convinced of how key the Mission, Vision, and Values are.
Defining your MVV is analogous to building your house on the rock.
Achieving clarity on who you are (and, sometimes even more importantly, who you ARE NOT) is critical. This goes hand in hand with answering the WHY question. Why do you and your entity do what you do? The answers drive decisions like what kinds of services or products you should be providing - and which ones you should not (or, even more critically, stop offering).
I like to use the example of Starbucks’ mission statement: To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time. When you read this, what is the one word you’d expect to see, but don’t? ‘Coffee’, right? This is because Starbucks is NOT a coffee company - they are a company that is all about providing attractive, pleasing environments that can serve as channels by which they can sell products that are a fit for how they have chosen to define themselves. As written, their mission statement enables them to sell, yes, coffee. They can also sell tea. And food. And music. And booze.
One of our clients also provides a helpful example of the utility of your MVV. We tend to work with professional service providers - folks that are really good at what they do but don’t know how to manage the business side of things. Not that they can’t or couldn’t figure it out on their own - they just don’t have the time and this is what we at CSR do. In this example, this law firm was all over the map - they had been around for decades, expanded and contracted, had partners come and go, and were trying to figure out what they were going to do going forward. The Mission statement that was generated through the strategic planning exercise revealed that at the end of the day, they were really focused on the client experience. They wanted to be known as the law firm that wasn’t going to be like going to the dentist. Their mission began informing decisions from staffing (why recruit attorneys or staff that are not a mission fit?) to determining which practice areas to focus on. Once they began using their Mission statement as a decision filter their practice flourished with purposeful growth.
Once you have defined your mission, we focus on creating a Vision statement. If Mission is practical, the Vision is, well, visionary. It should focus on the future no matter how fanciful or aspirational it may be. Your vision is your opportunity to dream about what your work will change and how it will affect the world. Henry Ford is the poster child for visioning. His Vision for the Ford Motor Company was to democratize the automobile. How and why is this aspirational? To democratize speaks to making it ubiquitous. EVERYONE who wants a vehicle should have one and cars should be everywhere. At the time of the creation of this statement, the ENTIRE country had about 1,500 miles of paved roads. There was no infrastructure in place to support this (gas stations, dealerships, garages, etc.). The automobile sold for $2,400 and that was more than the average American family made in a year. That is aspirational indeed. Later in the mid-20th century, the Ford Motor Company actually achieved what seemed an impossible vision and began to struggle to define what their next “next” was going to be. It was time to create a new vision.
Another great example of an aspirational vision comes from one of our medical clients. As we probed into what the partners at this practice dreamed … we determined their vision: “Everyone deserves healthy skin. The growth that was UNLEASHED after the adoption of their MVV is something I have never seen before - 2.5x growth from the beginning of our time with them to the four-year mark, this little four-word statement was instrumental in unlocking their recruitment, drive to optimization, choice of technology purchases, etc.
The final V of the MVV is equally important. I particularly like values because they tend to be quicker and more flexible tools that enable you to react to day-to-day situations swiftly and in a more targeted manner. Values are clear and quick action statements. They apply to internal AND external stakeholders and are used to define the work culture and make decisions. Here are some examples of values that should NOT be used: Honesty, Integrity, and Respect. Why? You might ask, should these not be used? Because, in the grand scheme of things - they are meaningless. Think of it this way: how confident would you be with a restaurant that proudly proclaimed as one of its core values that it was “100% vermin free”? These “permission to play” values are the basics upon which any organization can be assumed to deliver. Think beyond these values that should be a given to what values you want to characterize your enterprise.
As an example, CSR’s core values are tenacity, versatility, caring, and openness. We chose these for very specific reasons and we re-validate their selection each year when we pop the hood on our strategic plan. Each value has a story behind it and even the order they are stated in, is intentional.
The value of choosing your values cannot be overstated. One of our law firm clients was able to use its core values immediately upon choosing them. During the exercise, they realized that they really value a team-first work environment. They had experienced “Lone Rangers” before and knew that that wasn’t something they wanted to revisit. A nagging issue with one of their partners, under the light of this agreed-upon core value, was suddenly brought into focus. This partner was exclusively focused on himself and his staff. This created tension and mistrust within the entire firm. This revelation enabled them to prioritize and take practical action.
Your Mission, Vision, and Values will define your company culture and direction. Without it, you will flounder. With a clear MVV that is regularly reviewed and lived out, your company will choose and retain the employees that should be on your company’s bus as Jim Collins would put it. You will ensure your ladder is up against the right wall using Stephen Covey’s metaphor. You will make strategic decisions that will lead you to where you want to go. If you are not a convert, I invite you to go through the exercise of determining your mission, vision, and values so you can discover the power to target and accelerate your firm’s growth.
Reprint from article in the Law Practice Quarterly - Aug. 2022