A cultured vision: an organization's guiding principles can influence the effectiveness of governance activities.

Author:Wright, Rick
Position:Governance Perspectives
 
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Vision is not a topic often mentioned in the context of governance. But organizational vision can influence governance success, as well as its catastrophic failure. An organization's vision and the way in which it is nurtured can have a tremendous impact on its culture. There is much to be learned about an organization's governance tendencies by studying its vision and culture.

An ancient proverb states, "Without a vision, the people perish." Indeed, vision is a powerful notion that, when cultivated, ignites people's passions. Vision drives the very essence of who and what an organization is or will become.

A healthy vision planning process can support strong governance. Visions allowed to develop without deliberate planning, or apart from an ethical anchor, can create governance challenges and unhealthy cultures. Consider the vision statement, "Be the best widget manufacturer in the world at all costs." The phrase "at all costs" can have devastating consequences on organizational culture. It actually empowers employees to do unethical things.

This obviously is an extreme example to illustrate a point. But how does an organization ensure that a strong and compelling vision does not inadvertently promote unintended culture and governance issues? One way is to identify and communicate clearly defined organizational values or guiding principles. Guiding principles state in very direct language those behaviors and attitudes that are acceptable and those that are not. For instance, a guiding principle for how employees should show respect for those who interact with the organization might be: "We will respect everyone; even when we disagree; even when we do not receive the respect we think we deserve in return."

A value such as this underpins cultural wholesomeness, which in turn supports an environment where good governance can thrive.

Being aware of ways organizational vision originates can help auditors spot red flags that could jeopardize good governance. Vision is often confused with an organization's mission statement. Some organizations do not even have a vision statement. Whether a vision is formally written may have little to do with its existence. Vision is conceived and nurtured differently in every organization. Possible ways visions emerge include:

Through a visionary idealist. Some organizations derive their vision from a single visionary leader who may possess a spiritual-like aura. Visionary idealists are entrepreneurs with a...

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