HR Roundtable: Making Ethics, Mission and Vision Come Alive

Article main image
May 28, 2014

You could tell that Spring was in the air as people began to gather for the May HR Roundtable in Cincinnati.

The attendees were excited to talk about the topic of “Making Ethics, Mission and Vision Come Alive in Your Organization.” The focus of everything was to see what we could suggest so that these weren’t just pretty statements hanging on a wall or stuffed deep inside an employee handbook.

To get started, the small groups took on the following questions:

  1. Are ethics, mission and visions still relevant in companies today?
  2. What keeps these “on the wall” and not in people?
  3. How can we humanize the workplace?

The small groups really took this topic to heart and there was a mix of behavior stories and ideas that truly tried to come out with some clarity and possible solutions. Let’s see what they shared:

Are ethics, mission and vision still relevant?

  • Yes — The group seemed to be almost offended by this first question because the make-up of the group represents those who have been in the workplace for some time. It was almost a conversation killer, but Steve clarified – “Have these corporate benchmarks become generational expectations and place holders to make sure you have them?” That brought more answers …
  • Ethics are always relevant — It was interesting to hear the discussion of corporate-wide ethics and personal ethics. The assumption is that they are the same when actually, that is rarely the case. People felt that “ethics” was more defined by knowing the difference between right and wrong, and then doing the right thing. In theory, this is fantastic! In practice, it is a daily challenge for both the individual and the organization.
  • They’re relevant if, and only if, they have an emotional tie — The general sentiment of the group was that these factors in companies are more relevant if people can identify with what they embody. It should be noted that the emotional tie is something that does more to bind and personalize these statements. If people are visibly living the ethics, mission and vision out on a regular basis this emotional tie becomes powerful.
  • Integrated into your internal and external brand — This is taking things to the “next step.” By integrating your ethics, mission and vision into your brand you are making them an integral part of your company culture. This is also a big step because companies tend to push these at the surface level and in marketing pieces. The key is to keep them alive throughout the functions of the company.
  • Well, with younger people … The discussion became divisive at this point once again. It was shared that younger people don’t value ethics, missions and visions as much as their older counterparts. Yikes! This generalization was prevalent in the discussion, and honestly, a bit disheartening. We seem to be stuck in generational finger pointing to try to accentuate differences when we could be looking at bringing folks together regardless of their age and/or seniority.

What keeps these “on the wall” and not in people?

  • The previous comment! — If a company continues to focus on differences between people and not on strengths, then these areas of a company will always remain statements that lie lifeless on walls. There are cultural pulls here that HR needs to note and address. If HR is one of the key levers at highlighting differences instead of bringing things together, then companies are going to continue to be stagnate and a constant churning pool of mediocrity.
  • How these are demonstrated by all levels of management — This was a key distinction that is too often overlooked. Most HR discussions raise the “Senior Management” flag as quickly as possible bemoaning that if “they” don’t get on board, no one will. There is truth in this. However, the ethics, mission and vision are for the whole company and not just the C-Suite. Companies would make great strides to quit trying to make everything around culture just reside at the top of an organization.
  • Make these part of the regular conversation — Every company has its own language. The question is, what are you talking about? It gets back to the previous observation of your focus. If your culture continues to focus on what’s wrong or negative, it won’t matter what your ethics, mission and vision are because people won’t buy that you’re about lifting up these tenets. Your focus drives what comes to life in your organization!
  • A different “accountability” —  When Steve hears the word “accountability,” he shutters. This is because most people use this term as a means of enforcement. The general tone in most organizations is that if people are accountable, then they’re in line. This forced conformity is a dark approach to culture, HR and organizational health. The new accountability that was discussed was making sure that people saw themselves inside the ethics, mission and vision of the company. By working towards a common culture, employees can hold each other accountable to positive standards that can move themselves and the company forward.
  • Integrate. Integrate. Integrate — This is the epitome of trench HR. Making the ethics, mission and vision come to life means integrating them into programs, processes and behaviors. This isn’t drafting yet another document which will gather dust and be ignored. It’s a chance to use these benchmarks as connective tissue to bring people together. It is extremely hard to integrate anything across departments because people want to keep things the same. It’s human nature. This is an opportunity to not settle for sameness and redefine the workplace in a significant and tangible way.

How can we humanize the workplace?

What does this have to do with the ethics, mission and vision of the workplace? The simple answer is – EVERYTHING !!

The challenge that faces HR more than any in our workplace today is that we have allowed systems to be what drives what we do instead of people. You can see this happen in every department because we’ve come to learn that we can fix systems whereas people just seem to be a mess.

We spend so much time on compliance and “accountability” that we lose sight of the very people who represent the ethics, mission and vision of our companies. Here are the two powerful responses the group came up with to bring the “H” back into HR.

  • Get out of the way of yourself — This is tough love time. HR has to quit thinking that more and more systems will bring serenity to the workplace. Most of the items that are created are in spite of people instead of working through people and their strengths. If you look at the ethics, mission and vision of the company as the building blocks and the lifeblood of the company, you will approach them with an entirely different perspective. People want to do their best when they come to work. HR has the chance to take that willingness and tie it into the culture of the company through these vehicles and make the workplace a vibrant place to perform. This isn’t something tied to a metric. It’s a practice that allows employees to flourish and contribute.
  • Allow people to be themselves — This isn’t easy and most people aren’t comfortable doing this. We have some unknown fear that people will take advantage of us if we allow this. You have to know this is unfounded. However, it’s something HR has to intentionally believe and practice. It can’t be something that sounds good but isn’t done. We have such a diverse group of people who surround us every day. What would companies look like if people brought all who they are to the workplace? Do you think the ethics, mission and vision would evolve and change? It’s possible and attainable. HR just needs to be the one to step forward to make it happen!

The Cincinnati Roundtable wrapped again on a positive note which is encouraging and a great attribute of this forum. I hope you can make them each month as we take time to tackle topics and truly learn from each other.