Guest AuthorMahalingam

The wallpaper effect

Source | C.Mahalingam

Mission statements needn’t remain decorative elements if the values therein are structured into an organisation’s work routines.

Are your eyes glazing over with the show and the dazzle? _ G. Ramakrishna

We have come a long way with the kaleidoscopic collection of wallpapers in the marketplace. The riot of colours and designs on the wall never cease to amaze. I have, many a time, kept gazing at and admiring the wallpaper and realise that I am not the only one, but many of my friends do so as well. Long live the creative minds that design, deliver and use these, for these are so pleasing to the eye and soothing to the soul! Well, the story is not just the wallpaper today, but something else that happens thereafter. You come back home and think about it, you can seldom recall and describe what you witnessed and enjoyed! At best, your description will be vague and blurred! Welcome to the world of “mission, vision and values” in organisations!

Thanks to many management gurus and their best-selling books, organisations the world over have produced high-sounding vision, mission and value statements and displayed them all over the office premises. Induction programmes invariably have sessions where someone supposedly senior enough in the organisation waxes eloquent for an hour on the organisation’s vision and mission, projecting the same on the screen. That is good news. After all, visions describe the desired future for the organisation and values guide the journey of the organisation like the North Star.

Now the bad news is that all the commitment to vision and values ends right there. Call that the wallpaper effect! You see the glassy, jazzy vision-mission-value posters displayed prominently in the hallways, customer-briefing rooms, cafeteria, gym and even toilets. The more the merrier so employees will hopefully read, absorb and internalise. The wallpaper effect does not spare even the CEOs!

In an interesting experiment by a leading consulting firm in US, the consultants invited a select group of CEOs and seated them in the boardroom. Shortly after mutual introductions, the consultants informed that the CEOs have a simple task to perform – choosing their organisation’s vision statement from the bowl that contained the vision statements of all the companies that the CEOs represented!

These vision statements were downloaded from the Web sites of the respective companies, but the catch was that before they went into the bowl, the company names were cut out!

Guess what happened? Most of the assembled CEOs had a hard time picking their company’s vision statement! The difficulty revolved around two things: (a) Almost all the vision statements read very similar; and even more noticeably (b) many of the CEOs could not recollect their company’s vision statement!

Now what does this have to do with the “wallpaper effect”? Simply put, vision-mission statements are not posters to display but exemplify the purpose of existence and road map for focus. The dark reality is in many organisations, these are no more than the wallpaper that we admire in restaurants and function halls only to forget soon thereafter! Visionary companies do things very differently and at one extreme, may not even have verbose vision statements spelt out. They live and breathe a certain set of values and everyone can articulate this from the CEO to the front office assistant. Vision statements need more than articulation and memory recall. Great companies use them to convey a shared mindset and dream to pursue collectively. Values are again not empty slogans, but something that guide the daily routines and decisions.

One approach organisations have taken is to drill down the vision and values into a ‘way of working’. In Hewlett-Packard company of yesteryear, this was known as the “rules of garage”. It served as the guiding norm for daily behaviour through which the values were lived everyday by everyone in the company.

I see a distinct role for HR leaders who would like to bring the values of their companies to life – build your own version of the rules of the garage, or call it rules of the cubicle if you like it, and weave it into the measurement process to ensure everyone conducts the daily routines by these rules!


MaliC. Mahalingam is a leading HR Thought Leader in India. He was Executive Vice-President & Chief People Officer with Symphony Services Corporation and served in organisations like IBM, HP, Phillips, Scandent Technologies etc. He is now a Leadership Coach, HR Strategic Consultant and visiting faculty at some of IIM’s.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated November 14, 2011)

Show More

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button