In an ideal world, every organisation is driven by a profound sense of purpose and a set of core values that shape its identity and guide its journey. This is captured by the organisation’s vision and values statement, which acts as a compass, leading the way and inspiring every action the organisation takes. 

Done right, your vision statement captures the essence of what you aspire to achieve and the impact your organisation aims to make in the world. It serves as a guiding star, lighting the path towards a better future.

Your values are the guiding tenets which turn your vision into reality: they form the very foundation of your company culture, defining who you are, how you operate, and the principles you hold dear. They guide decisions, shape behaviour, and foster a sense of purpose-driven collaboration.

Research tells us time and again that the type purpose-driven approach demonstrated by a company’s vision and values can transform x y and z (more on that here) – we know it’s a game changer. 

“One reason we roll our eyes when people start talking about values is that everyone talks a big values game but very few people actually practice one.”

Brené Brown 

What happened?

So why do so many organisation’s vision and values stay stuck in the back of the CEO’s drawer gathering dust, only to be dragged out each year at Annual Report time?

How did such an integral part of an organisation’s brand, culture and strategy end up the barbie doll of so many organisations’ strategy (all face, no substance) and what can be done about it? 

The three horses of the Vision & Values apocalypse: The vision and values lucky dip. Generic language. Not walking the walk.

There are three reasons why corporate values can come across as generic or insincere, which can make them seem uninspiring or lacking in authenticity. Let’s break them down: 

Problem number one: The vision and values lucky dip.

Sometimes the company vision and values are randomly chosen without considering the organisation’s history, customer goals, or the purpose and values of key individuals within the organisation. Surprise outcome? A lack of authenticity and inspiration. 

Instead, try this:

  1. Reflect on the organisation’s history: Understand the roots and heritage of the organisation to uncover its core values and purpose. This historical perspective can provide valuable insights for shaping a meaningful vision and values statement.
  2. Involve key stakeholders: Engage key individuals within the organisation, such as founders, leaders and employees, to understand their perspectives, values, and aspirations. This collaborative approach ensures that the vision and values reflect a collective sense of purpose.
  3. Connect with your customers: Gain a deep understanding of your customers’ needs, desires, and aspirations. Align the vision and values with the customers’ goals to create a more customer-centric approach and establish an authentic connection.

Problem number two: Generic, non-specific language.

Many companies use similar or vague language when describing their values, which can make them seem like buzzwords or clichés. For example, words like “integrity,” “excellence,” and “customer focus” are often used in corporate values statements, but they can be interpreted in many, many different ways and rarely provide much insight into what the company truly stands for.

Instead, try this:

  1. Be specific and concrete: Instead of using generic terms, articulate values in a way that demonstrates what they mean in practical terms within the organisation. Use vivid language and examples to illustrate how those values come to life.
  2. Focus on impact: Instead of just stating the values themselves, emphasise the impact those values have on customers, employees, and the broader community. Show how the values drive meaningful actions and positive outcomes.
  3. Be authentic and unique: Identify the distinctive values that truly define the organisation and differentiate it from competitors. Embrace the organisation’s uniqueness and express values in a way that reflects the organisation’s personality and culture.

Problem number three: Not walking the walk (or not being seen to).

“If you’re not going to take the time to translate values from ideals to behaviors—if you’re not going to teach people the skills they need to show up in a way that’s aligned with those values and then create a culture in which you hold one another accountable for staying aligned with the values—it’s better not to profess any values at all. They become a joke. A cat poster. Total BS.”

Brené Brown 

Some companies may not fully live up to their stated values, which can make them seem insincere or hypocritical. If a company claims to value integrity but engages in unethical practices, for example, its values statement will undoubtedly ring hollow. Even organisations which are striving to live their values can fall into this trap, by not publicly demonstrating the many ways in which they live their values, even though they do it every day. 

Instead, try this:

Live your organisation’s values authentically: Ensure that your actions, policies, and decision-making consistently align with the stated values. Lead by example and demonstrate integrity in all aspects of the business.

Communicate and showcase alignment: Regularly communicate and showcase how your organisation’s actions align with its values. Share stories and examples that highlight how the organisation is living its values in meaningful ways.

Foster accountability and transparency: Create a culture of accountability, where employees and leaders are encouraged to hold themselves and each other accountable for living your company’s values. Foster transparency in decision-making processes to build trust and credibility.

Want to learn more about building purpose-driven brands? 
Read on here.