To Create an Enduring Vision, Values Must Support Purpose


The Three Elements of a Compelling Vision“Vision is a clearly articulated, results-oriented picture of a future you intend to create. It is a dream with direction.” In short, vision is a combination of three basic elements: 1) a significant purpose, reason for existence, 2) a clear picture of the future, and 3) the underlying core values. 

In my last two posts, I discussed the elements of purpose and picture of the future. This post focuses on the third element – values.

Our values are our deeply held beliefs about what is right and good, evoking standards that we care deeply about. They drive our behaviors and decisions, trigger our emotions, and can fuel a passion that drives commitment, even in the face of obstacles and change.

An engaging vision, one that captures our hearts, does so because it clearly resonates with our core values. When a group of people discover they share the same values, there is a significant increase in energy, commitment and trust.

Values must support purpose.

The core values of BMW – outstanding engineering, quality and reliability – make sense because the mission of BMW is to provide premium products, premium services, and premium experiences for individual mobility.

Disney theme parks and cruise lines need a different set of core values to effectively fulfill its purpose—safety, courtesy, entertainment (“The Show”), and efficiency.

Since the purpose of CNN is to provide live news coverage as it unfolds, the need values of being fast, accurate, and responsive to news-needs of the public.

Because BMW caters to a select clientele, being responsive to the needs of the general public would make no sense for them. Safety might be important for CNN, but it is not a core value because reporters need to take risks at times to get to the news. I expect my accounting firm to value accuracy, not “The Show.”

An organization’s culture is shaped by its values and expressed through actions.

High performance organizations embed their values through their formal and informal practices, policies and procedures. For example, in support of their value The Show, people who work at Disney are called “Cast Members,” (rather than employees), no matter what their role. Their values are central in new employee orientation, leadership training, and reward systems.

Unfortunately, too often organizations articulate values they aspire to but which are not being lived. Values are embedded in the fabric of the organization, and the real values can be easily identified though observation. (See Five Easy Ways To Tell If An Organization Is Really Values-Driven).

Values are usually timeless and unchanging, but not always.

The founding values may have gradually morphed over the years and now be out of sync with purpose and direction. Or perhaps there have been changes in external forces that require a significant culture change (e.g. changes in the environment, technology or legislation).

Implementation of a new strategy will fail if it is at odds with the culture because, as Jon Katzenbach says, “Culture trumps strategy every time.” In these situations, the culture and underlying values must be actively addressed.

Sometimes it is possible to help employees embrace a significant shift by demonstrating there is a connection to a core value. This is what Sony did when attempting to shift from being a product-driven manufacturer to a customer-centric entity centered around broadband entertainment. Their message was that the new Sony was still “driven by the venture spirit of Sony’s founding days.

However, many formerly monopoly-based utility companies have had to reinvent themselves in order to become competitive, requiring fundamental changes. New values need to be instilled.  This was the situation Southern New England Telephone Company faced in 1994 when Connecticut deregulated the local market.

Ask first, “What are our values?”  Then ask,  Do our values enable us to fulfill our purpose and our potential?”

Start by surfacing your organizational values. What do the behavior and decisions tell you about the core values?
But don’t stop there.

It is a mistake to surface your organizational values outside of the context of your organization’s purpose because you might confirm the wrong values.

It is a mistake to not revisit your values when engaging in long-range planning or preparing for a major change because you might perpetuate the wrong values.

Most likely, the fundamentals have not changed. When properly conceived, your vision (purpose, values and picture) will continue to guide you into the future. But don’t take it for granted. Keep revisiting it, keep questioning it, and keep it in mind when setting strategy, identifying goals, and determining practices, policies and structure.


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30 comments to To Create an Enduring Vision, Values Must Support Purpose

  • You raise important points. Finding the linkage between values and purpose is so vital. Organizations may have many important values. Finding which ones truly propel the organization toward’s it’s purpose can really help to streamline thinking, leadership actions and to build culture.

    • Well said, Karin. You comment reminds me of the importance of finding the few core values that truly “streamline thinking, leadership actions and build culture.” A laundry list of values is not helpful. It’s not necessary to list each individual’s values. They can still live their own personal values within the organization as long as they are not in conflict with the core values.

      • The converse of ‘values propelling the organization towards its purpose’, ‘the purpose being naturally supported by the core value’ would provide the fuel for sustain the drive for attainment and enhancing the purpose.
        Also, more the ‘core values’ and ‘The Purpose’ are aligned, better would be the chances of the people in origination to remain voluntarily motivated to pursue both, synchronous to individual goals and values.

        • An excellent point – when purpose and values are aligned they enhancing and fuel each other. The stronger the alignment, the more they are embedded in the daily practices of the business, which allows people to easily see how they are aligned with their own goals and values, which fuels their commitment as well.

  • Hi Jesse

    I like your comments a great deal. Values are the one thing standing in the way of many large western enterprises being all they can be. Much of that is due to the unstable ownership base many of them have. When all shareholders care about is dollars it is really hard to get staff at any level to buy into the expressed values, purpose, or vision. That could be why in today’s troubled times most of the companies succeeding are the ones with strong stable ownership that care more about the long run than the short.

  • I enjoyed the post, Jesse. Values remain basically the same throughout all of our growth and processes. When we cast our visions, we must remember to start with the end in mind. When we reach our goal, will we still be who we say we are? Will we still stand for the same foundational values we started with? Will we still be ourselves?

    • I agree, Martina. When properly created in the first place, when modeled by leaders, and when embedded in business processes, you will have an enduring vision (purpose, values and picture of the future) that will provide ongoing guidance, answering the question “what’s next?” as goals are achieved and milestones reached, guiding you through both rough waters and still places. Nice to see you here, Martina. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

  • “Culture trumps strategy every time.” I had never thought of it like that, but without clicking through the link, I 100% agree with the statement. It’s all the more easier to get buy in into the vision when your values are aligned as a team and the values support the vision (and vice versa). I have always held onto the words of Steve Jobs (not sure of I read it or was watching a video), but he advised that when you hire people, you have to surround yourself with people that care about the same things you care about.

    Great post as usual Jesse

    • Thanks for sharing Steve Job’s view. It is indeed easier when starting a new company to bring on people who care about he same things you do. And it is a good recommendation to keep in mind when hiring people.

      This can become complicated when a new leader comes into an existing organization or when current leaders determine they need to make a fundamental change in strategy. The question then is, what can you do if the current values do not support the desired new direction? Obviously you can’t replace everyone who doesn’t hold the values needed to implement the culture. The biggest mistake leaders can make is underestimating how much a strategy’s effectiveness depends on cultural alignment. They need to revisit the vision (purpose, values, and picture of the future) and determine which values support the purpose and desired direction and whether something new needs to be instilled. Much depends on the capacity of the leaders themselves to model the new values, to engage in real dialogue at all levels of the organization, and to embed the new values in business practices.

      Thanks for furthering the conversation, Thabo!

  • Gurmeet Singh Pawar

    Hi Jesse,

    Nice to read your article, I just finished reading almost all the related ones from previous post. Not sure why, but your post puts me in thinking and coming up with questions. Whatever the reason here are few of my queries, which if you could respond, I will appreciate.

    1. How do you define value? :-
    => is it a question of ethics i.e. Right or Wrong differentiator or as per dictionary definition, what we value most or more i.e. matter of importance.
    => if it is a question of ethics, how and who decides such values and if it is an individual choice based on matter of importance given to it, then can being unethical for desired result be called value.

    2. As far as my understanding goes, Dr. Stephen Covey discards values calling them disillusioning, ones which focus on what we want to achieve and not on the universal laws of nature( which he refers as; Principles based on True North Realities). What’s your take on this?

    3. If there is conflict or a matter of Choice between: a) among different values b) purpose and values, how should they be dealt. For example; if survival of self and family (for an individual) and survival of company (for a company) is what which is most valued (survival means, matter of life and death), and if that is in question should I choose this value or another one. Similarly, if I value ethics, but my purpose requires me to be little unethical, what should I do?

    I hope these are not long queries, thank you again for the post and awaited response.

    Gurmeet Singh Pawar

    • Hi Gurmeet, I am delighted that my posts put you in a mode of reflection. These are great questions for a much larger, ongoing discussion. Ultimately we each need to find our own answers to these questions. Even the “experts” do not agree on all points.

      I agree that the best place to start is with definitions to ensure we are talking about the same thing. I define values as: “our deeply held beliefs about what is right and good.” These arise from our beliefs and assumptions about how the universe operates and our hopes and dreams, which often unexamined, drive us unconsciously. These two posts discuss this in more detail: Are You Consciously (or Unconsciously) Values-Driven?
      and also Dig Below Your Dreams to Discover Your Vision. When we surface our values, we can compare them to the external values held by our parents, the company where we work, and the society in which we live and begin to consciously and intelligently make our own choices.

      So one issue to be reconciled is one’s internal personal values in relation in the context of the values of the external community.

      Another issue you raise is that of means or operating values in relation to end-state values. How is one to proceed when there is a conflict in values? Is it possible to act unethically in support of a higher value? An interesting model that provides a context for understanding how we make these choices is Lawrence Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development. According to Kohlberg, one would answer that question differently depending on their stage of development. See his story “Heinz Steals the Drug,” and how responses differ about whether his actions are justified.

      I am not familiar with Steve Covey’s views on values vs. principles. Your description sounds like he’s addressing the issue of internal, personal vs. external “laws of nature.” He may also be addressing the issue of the emotionality evoked by values (which is why some people are willing to die to defend what they value) and how one bridges that to make rational decisions. Personally, I get a bit concerned when I hear people talk about “laws of nature” as the real values because whose interpretation of those laws is one to use? Too often the “laws of nature” as defined by religion or politics have been used as an excuse for murder and even genocide.

      I know I have only scratched the surface in response to your excellent questions, but hope that there is some food for thought here that will take you further in your own exploration. And I would welcome hearing your own thoughts on these matters.

  • Well stated, Jesse. Values must be seen in action. Too often, the organization “says” one thing but does something else. The question I always ask my clients who espouse a value, ” how would you know it if you saw it?” The same things applies to politics. Ummm. Makes one think

  • Great point. Paradoxically, organizational values are often paid lip-service because they can’t see the value of having them. My approach to helping clients give their values more attention is pitch them as a decision making tool. As leaders start to realize the cost of indecisiveness inside their business I assert that values are a decision-making tool. When ambiguity exists and the strategy – formal, or informal – doesn’t help with complex decisions, you can always go to the values to get a clue or indicator of what decision to make.

    • Thanks, Alan, for sharing your helpful thoughts on how to help leaders see the value of values. We certainly have seen many instances of how having clear values or not having them impacted the bottom line. For example how clear values enabled Johnson & Johnson execs to make a quick decision during the famous Tylenol tampering incident in 1982. And what happens when leaders who are not guided by values with the Costa Concordia disaster.

  • This line is oh-so-true:

    “Unfortunately, too often organizations articulate values they aspire to but which are not being lived. Values are embedded in the fabric of the organization, and the real values can be easily identified though observation.”

    My question: Are core values something that a lot of organizations feel they “have to have” because, well, it would look bad if they didn’t have a set of core values? But to your point, there is no culture change and (if need be) correct of behavior inconsistent with core values?

    • Good question, Gregg. What’s the motivation to identify values in the first place if they are not going to be used to guide decisions or integrated into practices and ways of doing business? If it’s for PR purposes, it’s an ill-fated effort, because most of us think it is hypocritical when we see published values that are being lived.

  • Hi Jesse!

    Congratulations on this job! Excellent contribution and reflection!

    I loved the expression “cast members”, that you mentioned about Disney employees. In this case, the real meaning of the work is expressed in the job title. Simple things can make the difference in the people’s life and jobs.

    Best regards

    Rodrigo – Brazil

    • Thanks, Rodrigo. It’s interesting how Disney does this. Those “cast members” who are in direct contact with customers are “on stage” and others are “off stage.” This helps everyone remember that their primary focus is on the customer experience, and is a further example of what I mean about embedding the values into business practices.

  • Dawood Chishti

    Remarkable concept of outlining vision through the beads of purpose, picture and values. Highly appreciated for unleashing potentials to promote business activities. But I have a query , demanding your attention ; is this visionary idea equally applicable both for business obstacles and social issues?


    Dawood Chishti

    • I believe it is Dawood. I would refer you to the visions articulated by Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Gandhi. If you look closely you will see clear purpose, values and a compelling picture of the future you can see in your mind.

  • Gurmeet Singh Pawar

    Thank you Jesse, I am grateful for your time and effort put to answer, considering that they had tendency to go deep. Not sure if I intended it to go deep, but seems that’s how my brain functions :-). The intention was simply to have clarity in organizational context, but as it is that organizations are made and run by an individual, which is where it leads to. You do put up some interesting thoughts and ideas and I would try to state my thoughts on that with whatever limited ability I have. I am also not sure if I would also be able express myself clearly and correctly, because of the problem with language and words. As language and words are created by Humans, they are by default incapable of expressing what is beyond human brain. Said that, let me try it out.

    To start, I would agree with you on few thoughts, one this is an ongoing discussion and I do not see a status change on it soon. Second we each need to find our own answers; otherwise it would not be our life that we end up living.

    Next; for your definition of values “Our deeply held beliefs about what is right and wrong”. Now when you say Right or Wrong, you consciously or unconsciously give an impression of Morality and Ethics. If it is so then, who decides such morals; assuming by your definition, if it is each individual for self who decides then how do we understand these individual beliefs. Are these belief based on our conditioning or are they genetic code or is there some source to these beyond human comprehension(because humans have yet not evolved to that level).

    If I go by conditioning or genetics than actually it leads to a situation where all beliefs are nothing more than output through different permutations and combinations of conditioning and genetics and thereby there is no individuality at all. And thus we do not have in real sense any purpose of Life. Then you cannot explain why we were born, where we are going. So if that is the case why we crave to give meaning to our life or to find Purpose as our reason to exist.
    But if there is some source behind each belief which makes it possible to have something more than permutation and combination of conditioning and genetics, then we can try to explain that each one have some unique Purpose or Values of individual nature away from society provided by that source.

    But if it is so than the question comes, does this source has some purpose for all of us and does it have its own set of values. And here is where comes in picture some Universal Laws Defined by that source( I am incapable to define or name or articulate what that source is or could be; some call it nature, some God, Some Truth etc)which provides everyone one purpose and some common set of values which eventually are driving us.

    So how does it translate to organization or each individual, here interestingly I am quite appreciative of Kohlberg’s theory of stages, not commenting on his concept but agreeing to the idea of stages. I believe that each individual is placed in different stage according to some criteria, and the purpose of that individual is to pass and go on to next stage. To achieve this we are given conditions to operate and we try to define ourselves some purpose and values to work on, as we go on we end up facing circumstances where our self defined purpose and values get questioned. At this stage if we are not in tune to the purpose and values of the source, we end up rethinking and eventually changing our self defined parameters.
    And here is where actually the effort to Define our self purpose or own set of values comes into play. Because they are in real sense our effort to reach our true purpose and understand the universal values.

    What are these universal values, I don’t know, what is the real purpose of existence, I don’t know, but till the time we do not go and make conscious effort towards reaching that, we will keep on feeling unfulfilled and face trouble.
    Now back inside the boundary of your post, I think Values are what we think is important for us as an individual. If for me my life is important, it means I value my life, so all the decision I will take, they will be based on this value. And values also are as per priorities, so I will value one aspect more than another, therefore in matter of choice, I will go for one which is more valued by me. This has absolutely nothing to do with Morality or ethics, for I might not value them at all. Therefore you find people taking decisions which are unethical and then also justifying themselves about it.

    But whether or not you are living same values as universal ones is not important because while living your own values you are bound to face circumstances which will question you on pursuing those values.
    And this process or search leads you to the right place.

    And the last point I would like to take up is your comment, “issue of the emotionality evoked by values (which is why some people are willing to die to defend what they value) and how one bridges that to make rational decisions”. Not sure what you exactly mean by that, but if you implying that sacrificing one’s life is an emotional decision backed sometimes by rationality, then I think I would not be so sure about that. I believe that one is highly capable of making pure rational decision without an iota of emotional aspect to it and concluding his life as of lesser value to something else.

    So this is what I can say about the matter, not even sure if it makes any sense, but I tried. Look forward to your thoughts on this.
    Thank you.

    Gurmeet Singh Pawar

    • Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Gurmeet. A good question is worth so much more than a quick answer because it opens our thinking and expands our awareness. Your questions are to be savored and not answered quickly. Here are a few responses (not necessarily answers): I think it is correct to discriminate between values and ethics if one assumes that values arise internally and ethics are defined externally. It is worth staying with the questions of “from where do our values arise?” and “what is universal?” as they take us on an important journey of discovery. Regarding your point about making a purely rational decision to give up one’s life in favor of a value: I believe most people are ruled by the emotionality of their values, but not all. One example being Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor and internationally noted theologian, who during World War II returned to Germany from safety in the United States saying, “Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security.” He died for what he believed. Clearly he was a rational thinker with deep convictions. One point I would emphasize is that no matter where our values arise from, they are manifested in our behavior.

  • Gurmeet Singh Pawar

    Hi Jesse,
    Thanks for the Kind words, and I look forward to hear more from you on this in future. I really appreciate your thought on “Questions” & “Behaviour”.
    About External and Internal, I find it more easy to comprehend if I do not separate them as internal or External, but as mere two points in a process that functions as a loop.

    Thanks again :)

  • Hi Jesse and thanks for such a helpful explanation of the relationship between values, purpose and picture. I’ve spent most of my life working in explicitly values-based organisations (mostly UK charities and international development organisations). I’ve noticed how values in such organisations are sometimes confused with mission or ‘purpose’, or conversely can become detached from how the organisation and people in it need to conduct themselves to be effective. It’s as if ‘values’ can take on an intrinsic value of their own, linked more to brand or identity than mission or purpose. Thanks for spelling out the relationship so clearly with great examples to illustrate the connections. With best wishes. Nick

  • Michael Clayton

    First time on your blog.
    Found your blog by series of links from an Argentine recruiter’s discussion on LInked In which led to his web site

    And that led to Valor + Habilidad + Actitud + Pericia + Experiencia + Intuición

    (I do not read Spanish easily, but found one English comment BY YOU which then led to your blog and the HBR article

    So drilling down and around, I found references to “True North” which to me is a great book by Bill George and Peter Sims. It seems that the disasters, corruption, and business failures drive great thinkers to write and show a path of lessons learned.

    Another link from your world
    [] led me to deeper dive that took me back to my college days at Carnegie Tech in 1950’s and a Problems of Philosophy class for engineers that changed my attitudes about many things. That class actually reinforced what my German grand-father taught me by his lifestyle of work, hiking, music, growing garlic, making beer, and living a happy life in his newly chosen homeland. As I came to know more German, Italian, Polish, Irish immigrants in my youth (1940’s in hills of Pennsyvania), and was taught how to make hi-fi speaker systems by a local jazz musician and TV repairman, I found that immigrants were full of life, had strong guiding values, and often were dismissed by the English-mostly “ruling” class in our town whose values were focused on making sure their children “married well” to keep the wealth in the family. We did have one high school that mixed us all up nicely, in spite of parental preferences, and that helped broaden all of us.

    Nothing has changed into the 21st century, as we struggle to adopt to the messiness of democracy, except technology. Now the culture wars are broadcast instantly, rather than discovered by interactions. But fear will always be the root of prejudice, and prejudice will always limit the potential of our country.

    The movement to secede is a classic example of fundamentalism and fear driving irrational behavior masked as values.

    Real learning takes time. And values require real learning experiences, not just floods of media opinions. My great-grandchildren will live in a networked culture of great diversity, with the merging of advanced memory and analysis systems with the human brain. What fears will drive their prejudices and limit the world’s potential? Will the current retreat into fundamentalism lead to breakup of our country into intellectual silos? We will see.

    • You cover a lot of territory, Michael. I agree with your thoughts that we are shifting to a networked culture of great diversity, and I don’t think it will be in your great-grandchildren’s time. I think we’re on the cusp of it now. The advances in technology have ushered a significant transition. Integrating the values needed to drive the shifts is essential. Keep the conversation going. It’s an important one.

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