Over the years, a number of leadership practices have been attempted, experimented with, and adopted by Junto companies. These practices are a result of shared experiences from their Mentors, all of whom are seasoned operators and entrepreneurs who believe that decision-making might be the most important role of any leader. Over time, I find myself using these practices with other companies as decision-making tools to build “guard rails”: tools that effectively help them make better and faster decisions, without compromising their financial or strategic integrity, while keeping the company on track. This is first in a series of blog posts covering those tools. In this one, I’ll address the strategic core of a business: its vision, mission, and values. In part two, I cover a company’s strategic and operating plan, which should flow from and support its strategic core. And in part three, I cover additional management tools such as budgets and operating standards. Vision A few months ago, I was struggling with a major decision in our own business. I met with a friend who happens to be a JuntoMentor and has a highly analytical mind. I was looking forward to dumping all my thoughts on him, sharing the decision I was planning to make, and providing my rationale for that decision. Given his analytical mind, I was looking forward to a spirited conversation. He listened to me intently, never interrupted, and when I was done with my monologue, simply asked, “You believe in Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, right?” I nodded yes. He then looked at me like I was a little child and simply remarked, “Then ‘begin with the end in mind.'” That phrase is one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits (from the famous book), and it instantly helped me make the decision because I knew the “the end” was referring to our vision statement. It also ended the conversation, enabling us to move on to other things. I’ve found that the vision statement is vital when it comes to key strategic decisions that have long-term impact. It’s the north star that shows the company its direction, even though it may never get there. And a simple question to use in making such big decisions can be, “Does this help us pursue our vision?” Mission Next in line is the statement which describes a company’s purpose and reason for existence. The mission statementcomes in handy when a company is faced with changing its product selection or target markets. Truth be told, sometimes the mission itself needs to change, but that’s more a result of ongoing product-market changes. An easy question to use the mission in decision-making is, “Is this why we exist?” For example, if a company serves consumers and all of a sudden gets a B2C opportunity with a large corporation, its mission (if crafted correctly) can provide the guard rails for the decision. Core Values This might be the most powerful set of decision-making tools a company has when it comes to its people. Core values describe what’s important to a business and how its people behave. When a company is crafting or updating its performance management system, it can use core values as performance criteria, making the review process more efficient for the company and more understandable for the employee. When a company is considering changes to its workplace, benefits package, customer support guidelines, etc., it can turn to its values to identify what’s important and how its team currently behaves. When a company is considering who to hire among two final candidates, its values can help it see how those candidates might fit into the company’s culture. The simple question here is, “Which values provide information on how we should approach this decision?” *** Part 2 of this series cover how a company can make better and faster decisions with its long-term strategic plan and short-term operating plan.