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Mission, Values and Trust

by Hank Barnes  |  July 21, 2015  |  Submit a Comment

I’ve never been a big fan of mission statements and list of organizational values.   I don’t hate them or think  they are useless.   But I view most of them with skepticism and find that they just aren’t that strong and value creating.

But my perspective is changing.  And it is primarily driven by aspects of a wonderful book about trust that I have been reading –  The Decision to Trust: How Leaders Create High-Trust Organizations by Robert Hurley.    I highly recommend it as it gives specific guidance, and examples, on how to not only build trust, but on how to make decisions to trust.   The image below is from the book and illustrates the trust evaluation process.


Source: The Decision to Trust: How Leaders Create High-Trust Organizations, Robert Hurley


But one of the most eye-opening portions of the book related to the role of mission and values in trust (this aligns with the “interests” element in the graphic).    I had never made that connection (I feel pretty silly now), but Hurley does and it is forcing me to look at mission and value statements through a new lens.

According to Hurley, your mission and values should be used to orient key decisions that impact trust.  An example he provided makes it clear.  In 1982, when some tainted Tylenol bottles were discovered, Johnson&Johnson (J&J) elected to recall all existing stock.  This was costly (Hurley states the costs as $100 million) and not required (in fact, the FDA did not want everything pulled at that time).  But the J&J values stated that customers come first–so that drove their decision–they felt it was in the best interest of their customers.     Their actions aligned with their words.  Trust grows.

On the other hand, I see many companies talk about the importance of people in their values—then they execute mass layoffs, while executive pay escalates and huge bonuses are achieved.  Those decisions are inconsistent with the stated values.   Trust erodes.

If your values put customers or employees ahead of shareholders, then your decisions should not be geared toward shareholder value first, at the expense of customers or employees.  This feels like a conflicting story in capital markets, but I’m a firm believer that you deliver customer value to get shareholder value anyway, so it works for me.  On the other hand, if you feel you must manage to shareholder value first, they need to be on the top of your values list.

Going forward, I will look at mission and values statements through a new lens.   That lens will be how it sets the expectations for decisions by the organization.   How consistently the organizations acts in alignment with the mission and values.   How it extends the brand promise that serves as a trust foundation.

Take a look at your mission statements and your values.  Are they empty words?   Or are they decision guides?

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Category: go-to-market  

Tags: trust  values  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes explores the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. Using that customer-centric lens, he advises those responsible for marketing technology products and services, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and startup CEOs on next practices to drive success for their customers and their business. Read Full Bio

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