Where "MVV" misses the mark

Peter Drucker famously observed that, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” In other words, a great strategy, even perfectly executed, cannot sustain results over time unless the culture of the organization supports achievement of those goals.

For example, the leadership ethos of the United States Marine Corps is backed by 14 Leadership Traits and 11 Leadership Principles and Procter & Gamble grounds its employees with their PVP: Purpose, Values, Principles.  Over the course of my career I’ve seen scores of organizations and brands define this cultural foundation in a myriad of ways, but two prevailing models come to mind.

The first is MVV: Mission, Vision, Values.

The strength of the MVV model is two-fold.  First, most MVV articulations tend to be succinct, and second MVV covers key elements of both Culture and Strategy. Mission, what the company does, helps to achieve the Vision, where the organization is trying to go.  The Values of the organization sets the framework for cultural norms, expectations, and behaviors.

However, I’ve witnessed two challenges with the MVV model. Because MVV mashes Strategy and Culture together, it often means that the Strategy components of the MVV are not updated over time as they should be.  Second, I often see generic MVVs that do nothing to differentiate the organization within its competitive space. For example, I recently spoke with a CEO who inherited this MVV:

  • Mission: We improve lives.
  • Vision: Reimagining health, education, and discovery to create unparalleled value.
  • Values:
    • Put people first
    • Be bold & think differently
    • Do the right thing

If your organization’s MVV works for you – if it’s understood, drives business results, and codifies a resilient and winning culture, then feel free to stop reading.

However, if you think your organization has room to improve on the culture front, let me explain our preferred model.

A trio of books were published around 2010 that deeply influenced the way I think about codifying cultural elements for an organization. Most of us have heard of Simon Sinek’s, Start with Why. Roy Spence, Jr.’s, It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For, is another entertaining read (for marketing nerds) that reinforces Sinek’s ideas, and shares insights from the like of Sam Walton and Herb Kelleher. However, the most important of the three is Jim Stengel’s, Grow. Stengel, the former Global Marketing Officer for P&G takes a data-based approach to understanding why companies with a strong sense of Purpose – and accordingly a strong Culture – perform better over time than companies that don’t understand why they exist.

As a result of this learning, we choose to split the Cultural DNA elements from the Strategy elements of MVV. We use the history of the organization, interviews with employees and stakeholders, and series of workshops and iterations to articulate:

  • Mission: WHAT the company does
  • Purpose: WHY the company does it
  • Values & Beliefs: Guiding principles for employee behavior

This PMB: Purpose, Mission, Belief framework should endure over time. Most of the organizations I’ve worked with have used this as the foundation for employee recruiting, employee annual evaluations, and brand value propositions.

Strategy decisions drive the other half of the Culture/Strategy foundation but should evolve over time.  Vision statements often last 3-5 years, Strategic choices 1-3 years, and Priorities may change as rapidly as quarterly depending on the environment in which the organization operates.

Organizations that articulate their Cultural DNA well drive sustainable results. When I led the work at Centene to articulate our Purpose – To transform the health of the community, one person at a time – I had no idea that business would grow from $5B in 2011 to over $100B in 2020.  Having a strong cultural foundation ensured that our employee base – hired continuously to support that growth – understood what it took to achieve success for our members, customers, employees, and other stakeholders.

While we can’t guarantee similar results for your organization, we can put our experience and expertise to work for you.


To learn more, Click here: https://www.cmosyndicate.com/culture-foundational-elements


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