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How do we get our employees excited about our organization’s Mission, Vision and Values? I’ve heard this concern from organizational leaders before and I wanted to share an example of a government organization successfully using a powerful but simple approach.

The Usual Way

A typical method of building an organization’s Mission, Vision and Values is for senior leadership to develop them during a leadership retreat.  Leaders spend valuable time reflecting on the organization’s purpose and the direction of the organization. Senior leaders often spend days discussing the Mission, Vision, and Values and devote even more time wordsmithing to ensure they get just the right language.

Once complete, leaders excitedly share their final work with the rest of the organization. Unfortunately,  this approach often flops. Having no understanding of the process, employees lack a strong connection to the resulting elements. Over time, the fancy framed statements on the walls gather dust, employees lose interest and, if asked, nobody in the organization is able to quote the Mission, Vision or Values that leadership spent so much time and care creating.

Nobody in the organization is able to quote the Mission, Vision or Values.

A Better Way

There is a better approach that involves employees and results in a stronger commitment to these foundational organizational elements. It’s called Catchball.

Catchball is a term used in Lean that describes an approach involving employees in creating and sharing  ideas and information back and forth or up and down the organization. This approach is typically used when developing annual objectives and goals in a process called Hoshin Kanri, but it works remarkably well when developing employee commitment to Vision, Mission, and Values.

The analogy is appropriate because playing catch requires active participation, focus and engagement. It’s like a game of catch between organizational leaders and employees.  Each party focuses on the ball, using hand-eye coordination to position and catch the ball. Then, taking aim, they throw it back with just the right amount of force. Applying Catchball in an organization involves employees in the development of an organization’s core elements. It may take longer to complete the process but the result is more employees participating in the creation and, therefore, feeling a stronger commitment.

The analogy is appropriate because playing catch requires active participation, focus and engagement.

Playing Catchball In Government

A government agency with 600 employees specializing in Facilities Management wanted more employee involvement in the development of their organization’s Vision, Mission and Values. We decided to deploy the Catchball approach. The challenge in this situation was that the next level of supervisors involved about 70 people. We took the challenge of involving all 70 people in Catchball sessions to develop the Vision, Mission and Values.

We scheduled a 2-day working session with the leadership team. The plan was for the Senior Leaders to develop a first draft of the Vision, Mission and Values. The last half of the second day was dedicated to inviting 70 supervisors to provide feedback on what the Senior Leaders developed during the first 1.5 day session.

How do you get 70 people actively engaged with feedback? In addition, how do you make sure the introverts have as much of a voice as the extroverts? It was a challenge! We scheduled 2 hours and here is how we organized it:

1. Get Feedback on the Draft

First, the Senior leaders presented the draft document on a projector screen. They started by sharing the discussions that led to the draft. Next they asked for feedback on the draft. We instructed the leaders on how important it was to ask for and accept feedback, and not to engage in “defending” their position. It’s considered “anti-catchball” not to listen to or accept feedback. This is important! Otherwise the feedback quickly stops.

With this format, the extroverts chime in right away with their likes and dislikes. The exact words of the facilitator and Senior Leaders were, “Okay. Thanks for the feedback” (As a scribe wrote it on a flipchart). And then, “What other feedback is there?” This went on for about 10 minutes which was how long it took to capture the steady stream of feedback.

2. Get Full Engagement

The second activity was geared toward engaging the introverted employees. We taped a series of flipcharts on the walls to gather input. We put the Vision statement at the top of the first flipchart. The second contained the draft Mission statement and each of the Values had their own flipchart pages. In the middle of each flipchart we posed two questions. On the left we asked, “What do you like about this statement?” and on the right we asked, “What would you change about this statement?” We asked the participants, introverts and extroverts alike, to walk around with a marker and write comments in the two columns. This was done without conversation as everyone added their own thoughts to what had been voiced during the feedback session.

Leaders reviewed the comments, conducted a debrief and decided what to revise based on the feedback. They did this immediately after the Catchball session.

3. Share the Results of Collaboration

Lastly, after the session had concluded, the Senior Leaders shared the 1st drafts and the newest revisions along with what had been changed based on the feedback. They asked the supervisors for their commitment to the new Vision, Mission, and Values and to share the finished work with their staff.

This worked so well that the Senior Leaders decided to conduct the same Catchball process to develop the organizational Goals, Objectives and Measures.

Not only did this approach involve people, create commitment and increase ownership, the positive, unintended consequence was that this group felt more like a team…a team with a shared sense of commitment and purpose. They also felt like their voices now mattered.

At the beginning of these sessions, some of the 70 supervisors didn’t know each other’s names, but after a few 1.5 hour sessions together they decided they wanted to have their own expanded leadership team name. They called themselves “Team 70” and here is a picture of Team 70!

This group felt more like a team with a shared sense of commitment and purpose. They also felt like their voices now mattered.

So, if you want employees to engage, take the time to involve them and make changes based on their feedback. Don’t make the mistake of leaving employees out of the process, telling them what their leaders came up with and expect the same level of commitment. The Catchball approach helps employees feel more connected to the organization with a greater sense of purpose and pride.

Have you ever played Catchball? What are some of your success stories?

Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Master Black Belt at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at UC San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.
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