Writing vision and mission statements began to become popular some thirty years ago, I remember. Since then, I have often been involved in workshops to design the vision and mission for an organization, either as participant or as facilitator. Defining the mission of an organization or business is the easier of the two as it describes what it is that the organization or business does. Defining a vision statement that everybody is happy with is more difficult, as it becomes more vague, generic and seemingly unrealistic. The fact that a vision statement is often unrealistic is even encouraged by some as it will describe an ideal situation to work towards even if you know you will never get there. As a result, we end up with vision statements that could apply to any organization and don’t distinguish one from the other. Consider the following examples:
- We will be the best in the business.
- Excellence is our motto.
- We will be the market leader.
- We will give the best service to our clients.
- Diversity is our strength.
- A world in which all people live in harmony.
Many vision statements try to convince the public that the company provides quality products and services and that their employees are honest and respect their customers. In other words, that they are trustworthy. The reality is often different though and this is where the issue of integrity comes in.
Integrity means that what you do and think corresponds with what you say and feel, or that you “walk your talk”. Integrity means keeping your promises. Not just once in a while, no, all the time. A measure of consistency comes in here. Where there is no integrity, habits do not match values. In other words, what I do does not relate to what I really find important. If a person lacks integrity, how can (s)he be trusted? Instead, this is what is called being hypocritical. And if a company lacks integrity, how is it going to satisfy its customers and stay in the business? Never mind its vision statement, which screams that “We will be the best!” And where the Chief Executive lacks integrity, why would the workers be honest and do the best they can? Following the leader may thus end up in lying, stealing and corruption. To make matters worse, the boss will now begin to lose grip on management as leading by example results in workers following a bad example. Let us look into what we see happening around us every day and see if we can draw a few lessons from there.
- Respect. Years ago, it could happen that an elderly driver would cross the wide Meskel square in his beetle Volkswagen, without really looking whether this was possible but instead bending his head and torso forth and back a few times indicating his appreciation for being given way by other road users. This was common as the Ethiopian culture is one of respect, especially for the elderly. If the same person would attempt such manoeuvre today, he would probably be greeted by loud honking and shown a few middle fingers by upset drivers who have no intention of giving priority to others, let alone elders. The same person showing his middle finger however may be leading the church choir on Sunday. Think again.
- Gender. No strategic or business plan is complete today if it lacks a paragraph or two about gender. In other words, the company or organization indicates how important it is to work towards equal treatment of women and men: a value. And while management has been painstakingly working on getting the gender paragraph phrased right, so that it will satisfy the donor organization, you may find that some staff treat women quite brutally. I recently witnessed a man getting out of his car to attack a women driver, while he clearly was the one at fault. He was dressed in a suit, …. like a gentleman.
- Honesty. Whenever I ask a company or person to provide a certain service I am interested in, the reply I get is usually positive, like: “Yes of course we can do that for you.” or “There will be no problem.” Most of the time I get disappointed though by the quality of the service. And it is almost never delivered in time, while the bill turns out to be higher than initially agreed upon. Promises not kept and excuses are common. Apologies are rare.
And so, we see that individuals, organizations and companies often don’t do what they would like others believe they will do. They do get found out though as their true values are different from their statements.
It is easy to recognise others in the situations described above and say of somebody else that that person lacks integrity. Next time you find yourself blaming everybody and everything else for the problems around you, I suggest you look into a mirror and ask whether you are a person of integrity yourself. I find that question extremely hard to answer.