The Committed Enterprise: How to Make Vision and Values Work

Reviewed by: 
Hugh Davidson
Alistair Schofield, Managing Director, Extensor Limited

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For the last 20 years the arguments in favour of setting strong visions and values seems to have been at odds with the relentless pressure on businesses for short-term returns.  Vision and values are, by their very nature, long-term and take time to produce results.  With the average tenure of a CEO of a UK plc now less than three years, it is little wonder that talk of vision and values have received short thrift amongst the ranks of business leaders.

However, since service businesses, where people's skills and attitudes are the customer “product”, predominate in the West, strong vision and values are becoming become relatively more important again.  The release of this new edition of The Committed Enterprise is therefore quite timely.

For many business leaders, vision and values are an ethereal concept that, at one extreme, might be considered meaningless verbage to be reproduced on mugs, mouse-mats and posters or, at the other extreme, be regarded a some sort of “Holy Grail” that might be sought but never found.  For the sceptics, help is at hand as this excellent book provides a step-by-step guide to how an organisation’s vision and values can be defined and implemented.

The book is based on extensive research in the UK, US and other countries through interviews with more than a 130 CEO’s and is written by Hugh Davidson, a visiting Professor of Marketing at Cranfield Business School and the author of the best-selling Offensive Marketing books.

The book purports to offer the reader two alternative ways of reading it: throughout the book the left-hand page is devoted to illustrations and diagrams that offer a “fast-track” way of reading the book, while the right-hand page provide a more detailed explanation – what the author terms “the scenic route”. 

Personally, I found that the fast-track route did not provide sufficient information to adequately follow what was going on.  It was a little like looking at a series of PowerPoint slides without having first attended the presentation.  However, having read the full text, the fast-track charts and illustrations make the book very accessible as a reference manual as they quickly provide the reader with a reminder of the material covered.

Through his research, Davidson identified seven best practices that seemed to define how successful an organisation had been at implementing its vision and values.  Much of the book is therefore devoted to defining these seven practices and providing an explanation as to how each can be established and implemented.  The seven practices are as follows:

  1. Building foundations.  In this section Davidson gets down to the very basics of the organisation by asking “what are you here for?”  This differs from vision in that vision is about where you are going, not why you exist at all.  He also asks the reader to dig deep into the organisation to look at where it has come from, its heritage, and the things that have defined it in the past.
  2. Strong Vision.  Having defined the purpose of the organisation, you can then go on to define where it is going.  But the vision must pass various tests if it is to be useful and useable.  It must be memorable, clear, motivating, customer-related and, perhaps most important of all, capable of being translated into an implementable strategy.
  3. Strong values.  In the modern age where products and services can quickly be copied by competitors, strong values provide a competitive edge that can create both staff and customer loyalty.  If these are linked to the vision then the organisation is building extremely strong foundations.
  4. Communication through action.  There is only any point in defining a set of values if you are then prepared to live by them yourself.  Sadly, this is the one are where far too many senior executives fall down!
  5. Embedding vision and values.  This is about driving the organisation’s vision and values into its culture and making it a corner-stone of any policy, decision or strategy.  It is here where the recruitment policy, the pay and rewards, the appraisal process, the structure and indeed everything about the organisation must be congruent with the defined vision and values.
  6. Branding.  The organisation’s branding is the outward expression of its vision and values.
  7. Measurement.  Here Davidson takes us back to basics.  We are creating a strong vision and values because we want to create a committed organisation and, although measuring vision and values is difficult, we can measure employee commitment, customer satisfaction and the strength of the relationships we have with suppliers.  We can even measure the degree of support the organisation has within the communities where it is located.
  8. In conclusion, Hugh Davidson has produced an excellent book that brilliantly manages to be both comprehensive and easy to read.  It also manages to illustrate the links between the various sections in a way that provides a simple “road-map” for anyone who is struggling with the subject.

It is a book that I would strongly recommend to anyone who is keen to explore the subject of vision and values.

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