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My new boss has come from a company where they set great store by their vision and values.

by Miranda Kennett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

He's very keen for us to go through the same kind of process and, although in principle this would be a good idea, this company is nothing like the global organisation he came from and I don't think we're ready for it.

A:This is a tricky area. For while there's little doubt that a shared sense of purpose and a clear set of behavioural standards can make a tangible difference to an organisation's success, imposing these things or, worse still, trying to graft them on from elsewhere usually ends in failure.

There are many benefits to achieving a company-wide understanding of its business goals and higher aims, and a commitment to achieving them through an agreed group of behaviours.

These include everyone knowing what they are doing and why, and what contribution they can make to company success. This makes it more likely that people will be doing the right job and feel a greater satisfaction in doing it.

As the saying goes: 'We all have to mix cement, but it helps to know we are building a cathedral.' This shared clarity also makes it easier to delegate and to spread responsibility for the creation of positive results throughout the company, reducing the need for supervision and policing.

The implication is that if your firm hasn't developed a common understanding of vision and values, it would be worth doing so. But how best to tackle this and to make sure that your boss's zeal in trying to turn your organisation into one like the one he left doesn't spoil what could be of great advantage to the company?

First, make sure your new manager realises that you are personally committed to this initiative and that you're willing to help him achieve his goals, using your experience of the way to get things done within the organisation. Suggest a knowledge-sharing session in which you compare the two organisations and their relative stages of evolution, and work out what implications the differences hold for introducing and implementing the initiative. Agree what obstacles and opportunities the situation presents and thus the different approaches required.

The most important lever for success is gaining the commitment of the senior executives. Without it, an already difficult process can be rendered mission impossible. Having a direct say in deciding the most important values and in defining the higher purpose of the business (beyond creating shareholder value) is the best way of engaging senior managers. Their input is important: they have greater experience of what matters to the firm and since they will need to become role models for the values, these must be rooted in their own beliefs.

Have input from your customers on what they care about in relation to the business - after all, 'values' are valueless if they are not relevant to those who buy or use your products or services.

I remember working with Commercial Union on what became a famous advertising slogan: 'We won't make a drama out of crisis'. At the time, the company was keen to advertise the enormous sums it had under management, but customer research showed zero interest in this. Instead, for purchasers of this undesired but necessary service, the acid test was how you were handled when you made a claim. The message became an action standard for the company and, though at times inconvenient, a source of pride. The impact was success in retaining customers even when premiums rose substantially.

Once the senior team has identified the key concepts, they must be translated into the world of work. People need to know what difference the principles make to them day-to-day. I do a lot of this work these days helping people figure out how they already live up to the organisation's values and what needs to change if they're to perform in this way consistently. It's harder to be cynical and disengaged if you've helped to define what appropriate behaviour looks like.

So offer to be an adviser, be frank about the obstacles and see if you can work together to create an initiative that could make quite a difference to the organisation's results. If your suggestions are ignored, it probably means your new boss' chances of success with this or any other initiative will be limited.

Miranda Kennett is an independent coach. If you have an issue you'd like her to cover, e-mail:

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