The Agile Lighthouse: Mission, Vision and Values

Agile Amped recently got to chat with Melissa Boggs, an Enterprise Agile Coach at Agile42 and Business Agility 2018 Conference speaker, about her upcoming talk entitled “Agile Lighthouse: MVV as a Beacon for your Agile Transformation.” In this article we look at what Boggs means by the “Agile lighthouse”, and how mission, vision and values lights the way to Agile transformation. We also touch on what she calls “the culture iceberg”.

What are Mission, Vision and Values (MVV), and why are they so important?

“When I was 20 years old, my first real job was at a company where our mission was central to everything that we did.” Here’s how Boggs defines MVV:

  • Mission: Who are we? What do we do and for whom?
  • Vision: How will we change the world? How will the world be different when we’re gone as a result of the work that we’ve done together?
  • Values: What behaviors are important to us in our mission?

More recently, Boggs worked at a company where she said “They already had a mission statement, but quite literally the only person who could tell me what it was was the sweet lady in marketing who wrote it five years ago.”

Boggs’ experiences demonstrate how having a compelling mission, vision and values can affect alignment, which is crucial for business growth:

We sent a survey to the entire company asking for their answers to those questions [given above]. Then we had a series of guided discussions, at first just with [the] four leaders. What was interesting is I didn’t share the survey with them at first. I wanted to see if there was already alignment between what the company believed and what the leaders believed. When it came down to it, the entire company, including the executive team, was all over the place concerning mission and vision. But when it came to values, they were incredibly aligned and that was really encouraging to me.

We started to have those guided discussions with the leadership team. This was a remote company, so we would do this on virtual whiteboards and we would talk through all of those three questions and brainstorm. It was really interesting because sometimes we were just talking about semantics. But other times there were some really gritty discussions about the purpose and the future of the company.

Once we kind of went through those discussions and we drafted a couple of different versions and we shared those versions, first with what I would consider middle management, to get their input and their buy-in. It was kind of “We need you on board. We need you to help us, because when we actually roll it out, we need leadership leading the way”.

When we shared it company-wide, there wasn’t a whole lot of feedback or difference with people. We did t-shirts and we did water bottles and we did posters. All of that is really important when you are a remote company… We sent those packages out and then all of the managers had video meetings with their teams and they talked about how to make that mission, vision and values real for them and their particular team. That’s where I think we actually started to see where there was more alignment and that eventually grew into more agility in those teams and more self-organization. Because together they have bought into this mission, the leaders can trust that they all know what direction that they’re going and it’s in the same direction. The leaders are starting to trust each other more because they’re not fighting over things as much. It’s not a silver bullet, but we definitely saw some improvements, some better communication and collaboration as a result of that process.

Because together they have bought into this mission, the leaders can trust that they all know what direction that they’re going and it’s in the same direction. The leaders are starting to trust each other more because they’re not fighting over things as much.

Why “Agile Lighthouse”?

Like a lighthouse guiding boats on stormy seas back to shore, an organization’s mission, vision and values provide the same guidance to everyone in the organization. It can even signal to customers and clients, and perhaps most importantly new hires, what to expect by engaging with that organization’s brand. Thus having a clear MVV can be impactful for organizations considering or already executing their own transformation initiatives. Here’s Boggs again:

Part of the reason we spoke with those middle managers before going across the company was that the eventual goal, and this is even still in process, is changing our performance assessments: changing how we hire people, changing the interview process to actually involve those things. Changing onboarding to make sure that one of the primary focuses of onboarding is that new employee understanding where they fit in the mission.

Because this change is difficult and long in the making, when it comes to your company’s MVV, Boggs advocates for “talking about it until you cannot talk about it anymore and then talk about it some more”:

When I say, “Talk about it,” I mean every day. Every decision that we make: “Does it align with the mission?” This needs to be the lighthouse, this needs to be the North Star: “Does it align with the mission?“

Even if it’s so cool and even if Competitor A and B are doing it; if it does not align with the mission, then we shouldn’t do it. It’s just a matter of really building it into the fabric of the company, and that takes time for sure and it takes intention.

What is the culture iceberg?

We talk about the culture iceberg quite a bit – where what you can see is this much, a very small amount, and it’s the strategy and the tactics – but what you can’t see is these behaviors and these traditions. Those are the things that we need to talk about. Those are the things we need to make explicit. This process for this particular company lowered that waterline to make some of those behaviors and traditions and expectations explicit.

When I talk about lowering the waterline… [it’s] like putting words on paper and talking about what those words mean because those words are floating in the air anyway. If you can really get them out there and have discussions around them, then you’re getting somewhere, then your culture is more explicit, your strategy becomes more explicit as a result.

And what about those “ghosts”?

In her podcast Boggs discusses three types of ghosts that haunt companies who are scaling up: the ghosts of beloved company past, the ghosts of garage past, and the ghosts of growing assumptions. Listen to the podcast (below) to learn more!

This needs to be the lighthouse, this needs to be the North Star: “Does it align with the mission?“

Excerpts are taken from this recent Agile Amped podcast:

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