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The benefits of brevity by Nicholas Barnett

There’s an old saying that the more you say the less people hear. This is so true when it comes to discovering and articulating your Vision, Mission and Values or what I call your organisation’s Aspiration, Purpose and Values.

I’ve been privileged to help several organisations recently discover their Aspiration, Purpose and Values. Many of the experiences I’ve had during those processes will stay with me forever. One very memorable experience occurred when I was conducting a workshop where the participants were broken into small table groups of five or six each. They were all working on the organisation’s Purpose. Most table groups had come up with long winded sentences that were good descriptions of lots of things the organisation did. One person stood up and described the Purpose in only four short words – there was absolute silence for a few seconds and then it dawned on everyone almost in unison that this person had absolutely nailed it! What a very special and emotional experience for everyone in the room.

As an example of brevity, in BHP Billiton’s charter it says: “We are BHP Billiton, a leading global resources company”. This represents its aspiration and is just nine words. It goes on to say: “our purpose is to create long-term shareholder value through the discovery, acquisition, development and marketing of natural resources,” representing its purpose. I also particularly like one if BHP Billiton’s five values , which is “simplicity”.

The other great benefit of brevity is that the words are normally much easier for all the staff and other stakeholders to remember. I recommend that the five statements that I describe as one’s GPS should be articulated in around 30 words or less in total.

This article fits in with my book, “GPS for your Organisation: how to energise your employees and build sustainable high performance“. It’s a practical guide to help company boards, CEOs and leadership teams add clarity and gain ongoing buy-in to their organisation’s long-term direction, purpose and values.

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