Building the Corporate Soul – I, The Mission, Vision and Values

The inner spirit or soul of an organization is embodied in its Mission, Vision and Values. This article presents a brief summary of the emerging perspectives on the subject.

An organization has an inner core and outer life. The outer life of the organization is the expression of its inner core and therefore the quality of the external life of the community depends on the nature of its inner core. For enduring success and well-being, every organization has to build an elevating and inspiring inner core or soul. Interestingly, the mind of modern business, through a process of natural evolution, experience and reflection, has arrived at some important insights on the inner core of a business organization. It is now recognized that for long-term effectiveness of an organization, it should have some “super ordinate” goals which transcends its mundane aims of the bottom-line. Thomas Watson Jr, former CEO of IBM, wrote in a memorable passage in his book Business and its Beliefs:

“I firmly believe that any organization, in order to survive and achieve success, must have a sound set of beliefs on which it premises all its policies and actions. Next, I believe that the most important single factor in corporate success is faithful adherence to those beliefs. And, finally, I believe if an organization is to meet the challenge of a changing world, it must be prepared to change everything about itself except those beliefs as it moves through corporate life. In other words, the basic philosophy, spirit and drive of an organization have far more to do with its relative achievements than do technological or economic resources, organizational structure, innovation, and timing. All these things weigh heavily in success. But they are, I think, transcended by how strongly the people in the organization believe in its basic precepts and how faithfully they carry them out.”

The Mission and Vision

This ‘spirit, philosophy and drive’ of an organization articulated clearly in what is now called in current management thought as ‘Mission, Vision, Values’, is the inner core of an organization. While the mission statement defines the purpose or the broad direction in which the organization has to progress, the vision statement articulates some intermediate goals of the future which the organization wants to achieve within a given time. For a business organization both the mission and vision have to be in harmony with the intrinsic nature or swadharma of business, which is to create wealth, not merely for shareholders, but for the society as a whole and for other stakeholders like employees and customers. So the mission and vision of a business organization must be related to the aims, values and process of creation and distribution of wealth like customer service, quality, technological excellence or innovation, creative utilization of resources, social responsibility, and HRD goals like employee development, motivation, satisfaction or well being.

Let us now look at the mission and vision statement of some of the leading corporate players IBM Global Services describe their mission as “At IBM Global Business Services, our mission is to engage collaboratively with our clients and tackle their most complex business problem, we will apply our business insights to develop fresh, innovative solutions that provide real and measurable business outcomes.” Here the main emphasis is on Customer Service. Microsoft defines its mission as “to help people and business throughout the world realize their full potential.” Here the emphasis is on developing the human potential. Google says its mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Here the stress is on efficient utilization and distribution of an important resource for wealth-creation. Service Master deftly combines spiritual, human and mundane goals into their mission which is “To honour God in all we do”, “To help people to develop,” “To pursue excellence” and “To grow profitably.” The Vision must flow out of the Mission. For formulating the vision, Subroto Bagchi, one of the founders of a highly successful software consultancy firm in India, Mind Tree, gives the following useful guidelines.

bullet A financial goal: reaching a certain level of business, profitability and return on investment in a specified time-frame.
bullet An admiration goal: being among the best employees in a given category or to win an industry-level award or recognition.
bullet A goal towards social sensitivity: something that organization would stand for.

The Mission of the Mind-Tree is to “deliver business-enabling solutions and technologies, in partnership with customers, in a joyous environment of our people”. The vision, which follows from this mission for the year 2007-08, is:

bullet To achieve $ 231 million in revenue.
bullet To be among the top 10 percent in our business in terms profit after tax and return on investment (ROI).
bullet To be on the top 20 globally admired companies in our industry.
bullet To give a significant portion of our PAT (Profit After Tax) to support primary education.

The Guiding Values

The third aspect of the inner core is the Values. In navigating an organization towards its goals, if mission and vision are like the pole star, values are like a compass. There must be certain alignment between mission, vision and values. The vision must flow out of mission and values must follow mission and vision. And the values must provide clear guidelines for shaping decision, action and behaviour. The Mind-Tree classifies its value-systems into four categories: Caring, Learning, Action, Sharing and Socially Responsible, CLASS. And in each category provides detailed description of what it means. For example the values of caring is further classified into customer caring, people caring, financial caring, stakeholder caring and organizational caring. And each of these subdivisions is further explained to felicitate better understanding. For instance customer caring is defined as ‘understanding customer needs, stretches to deliver customer satisfaction. Builds lasting bonds and trust with customers.’

The main message, which emerges from these examples, is that the mission, vision and values of a business organization should be in harmony with the intrinsic nature, swadharma, of business and not stray away into unrelated abstractions. It should stay close to the aim of improving the quality of the economic and social life of the community. This doesn’t mean a business organization should not make any attempt to realize a higher values belonging to the moral and spiritual realms. But whatever higher values, it wants to realize have to be related to and expressed in terms of the swadharma of a modern business organization. For example if the organization aspires for truth, beauty and goodness, it must ask what do these values mean for modern corporate activities like finance, manufacturing, marketing, customer service, human resource development, corporate governance, interpersonal relationship and express them in terms of these corporate realities.

M.S. Srinivasan

The author is a Research Associate at Sri Aurobindo Society and on the editorial board of Fourth Dimension Inc. His major areas of interest are Management and Indian Culture.

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