Imagine you’re teed up for a jackpot question on Jeopardy. Mike Richards gives you this clue—“It revolves around mission, vision, and values.”
An ear-to-ear grin lights your face and you answer, “What is an association?”—That win would be a no-brainer for anyone reading this post.
Mission, vision, and values are a fundamental trio in the association playbook. Groups spend hours crafting these statements; so, we think of them as foundational. But today may be the moment to consider a more flexible approach.
Mission, vision, and values are founded on trust. When you are considering an update, it’s also a good time to take the temperature of trust in your organization. If you are interested in exploring organizational trust on a deeper level, join us on March 2 for the .orgCommunity Leadership ColLAB at the OLC Education and Conference Center in Rosemont, IL. The conference is exclusive and free to .orgCommunity’s VIP members.
We are hosting a guided exploration of what trust means for our future relationships with staff, boards, constituents, and the association industry. The objective is to arrive at actionable strategies for strengthening those relationships.
In July 2020, .orgSource surveyed approximately 300 association executives. One goal was to identify how the pandemic impacted their business models.
The response surprised me. Although 73% of participants agreed that accelerating trends would require fundamental changes in the roles of associations. Forty percent did not see any long-term revisions to their product portfolio, and almost 60% believed membership patterns would revert to their pre-pandemic status, with many leaders commenting that their mission, vision, and values would not change.
Twenty-twenty may have been too early to acknowledge that the shifts in how we view work and life are permanent and that those perceptions would continue evolving as the virus receded.
A post-pandemic business environment, characterized by change and disruption, provides good reasons to open the windows and let fresh air revitalize, even fundamental concepts. Viewing mission, vision, and values as timely rather than timeless, reinforces their significance both to members and to the association’s daily activities.
Meet the Moment
Mission, or your reason for being, doesn’t typically change with fads and trends. However, technology is a ruthless editor and could easily force a rewrite. If your members experience a shift in their professional direction, adjusting the organization’s purpose is critical to keep pace.
The March of Dimes is an example of a nonprofit whose original mission of serving polio victims was made obsolete by a vaccine. Yet, the organization was able to grow that narrow cause into the larger role of supporting maternal and infant health.
On the other hand, if innovation presents exciting new opportunities, that is another compelling reason to expand your purpose to meet the moment.
Brent Gibson, former Chief Health Officer at the National Commission on Correctional Health Care and Managing Director of NCCHC Resources, Inc., is proactive about finding avenues to grow mission in a competitive environment. “Historically at NCCHC, all technical assistance was based on support for accreditation,” Brent explains, “and we didn’t focus on margin. It became evident that, due to the complexity of the operating environment, there were services outside our realm of expertise that were not being provided. We were perfectly positioned to contract with experts who could solve these complex problems for our customers.” (Brent Gibson is currently Principal Consultant, Avocet Enterprises.)
When the mission changes, your vision must also be reinvented to inspire future development.
Vision statements are important motivators for staff, volunteers, and members. They point to long-term aspirational goals. If your vision statement includes quantifiers or qualifiers that inhibit adaptation to changing circumstances, don’t hesitate to break out of that box.
Crafting a statement with a more ambitious destination but fewer directions about how to get there will give your organization room to develop in unexpected ways.
A 2019 Harvard Business Review article highlighted 20 well-known companies that have transformed their mission and purpose over the last decade. Netflix, number one on the list, is a good example of a company whose vision expanded as a result of an elevated purpose. In 2013, CEO Reed Hastings committed to moving from being a content distributor to becoming the creator of award-winning productions.
Netflix’s new vision was driven by the idea that, in a highly competitive market, a shift in values would give its brand a leading edge. Since that decision, Netflix’s revenue has tripled.
Values round out why and when, with how. They are the active expression of mission and vision. Of the three categories, values have the greatest impact on how your organization looks, feels, and is perceived by its constituents. They infuse your brand with personality. That’s why they also deserve frequent exploration and evaluation.
Values describe the culture that your association seeks to promote. They outline norms for behavior, standards of quality, ethical guidelines, and expectations for performance.
Ironically, it took remote work to bring organizational culture forward. In a marketplace characterized by social and economic instability, leaders are realizing that how we interact with each other has a direct impact on revenue and growth. Taking the time to analyze whether your values statement matches the behavior you want to promote aligns the organization for success.
Shared values are important for any group, but they are especially powerful for an association. Values create community. And community is one way that associations distinguish themselves from their for-profit competition. Shared ideas and a common sense of what is right give people a North Star and the strength to manage challenges.
Nancy MacRae, CEO at the Emergency Nurses Association, explained the importance of community for her members like this. “Emergency nurses can get education in a variety of formats. So why come to us? It is about having a community of experts. Education is everywhere. But community is here at ENA—that’s the differentiator.”
Values can, and should, change with shifts in scale, process, policies, or priorities. For example, what works for 20 employees may not work well for double that number, or the introduction of international business units might require new cultural competencies. Societal shifts, such as the pandemic, are another reason to evaluate priorities. Remote work focused many employees on the importance of work/life balance.
Whether you are reviewing a current statement or identifying values for the first time, remember to wrap them in your brand identity. They should be a distillation of your mission, vision, and the culture and personalities that define your association. Your team will buy into qualities that they are eager to represent and have helped to identify.
Hit the Right Notes
Mission, vision, and values are your association’s voice. Each statement should resonate with impact and meaning. Don’t cling to yesterday’s ideas if they are tired and no longer ring true. To convince members that your community is the place where they belong, find a tone that hits the right notes for the moment.