What? The company doesn't need a vision? “Heresy!” you say?
I have to agree and we’ll come back to this topic in just a minute. First, just to set the tone, let’s talk about vision a bit.
Obviously, a company (and sometimes even separate organizations within a company) needs a vision that everyone can understand and rally around. A corporate or organizational vision is something that all employees can use to connect the dots between what they are doing and how it matters in the broader context of the company itself. Without it, people feel like cogs in the giant machine: they might do their jobs, but they are unlikely to do their jobs with the same passion they would if they truly felt that what they were doing mattered in a material way.
If that makes sense, then let’s talk about are the qualities of a good corporate vision. Here’s a quick list of qualities I look for in a corporate or organizational vision:
- Obvious — People shouldn't have to think very hard to understand what it means.
- Valuable — It must translate into something that is valuable to the customers.
- Relatable — People must be able to relate the vision directly to what they do for the company.
- Important — It must be clear why it matters if the vision is achieved.
- Unique — A vision is something different, not a restatement of things others have already said or done.
Now, back to my seemingly heretical statement at the start of this article: A vision is not what you need.
A corporate (or organizational) vision should articulate what the company is trying to accomplish. The vision is what drives the efforts of everything at the company. It’s what gives context to the needs and desires of the company.
The company or organizational vision should never simply articulate a need or a desire; it must be what makes the company good and “right”. The most common and easily understood example of a poor company vision is the one that states itself in terms of financial success. Consider a hypothetical company called Bob’s 24-hour House of Software whose vision is “$200 million in annual revenue by fiscal year 2020.” Take that statement and apply the qualities I listed above. It’s “Obvious,” I’ll give it that, but it fails miserably at the other four, especially in terms of value to the customers.
Have you ever seen the staff at a company rally around a vision that is some variant of “let’s generate a bunch of revenue”? The more likely result is jeers and general apathy about the company as a whole. I submit that even if that financial success translated directly to some level of financial success for the individual members of the staff, it’s still not nearly as powerful as a statement that says something about why what the company does actually matters to its customers. All too often I have seen critical technical talent leave a company because they didn't feel like what they were doing actually mattered.
Compare the vision statement above to one like this: “Our vision is to be earth's most customer-centric company, to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” Bonus points for any who knows (without looking it up) whose vision statement that is. The statement is simple, is easy to understand and talks about what the company should be, not what it needs. It’s pretty easy to see how employees in the company could read it, understand it in the blink of an eye, and then translate that vision into what they are doing day after day on their job. Also and somewhat critically, it’s easy to digest: you don’t have to refer back to it every day to remind yourself what it is or what it means.
It’s my feeling that if thought and attention are paid to crafting a vision, nurturing that vision, and helping others understand why it’s important, then success is simply a happy result of that work. My work at Sapphire Point is all around people, process and the things that make the technical engine in a company run as efficiently as possible. However, without something to give that engine purpose, it’s just a bunch of parts moving around and generating (virtual) heat. More specifically, without a strong vision, I (or someone like me) can do an amazing job of bringing people, process and technology to bear on the needs of the business; but without a meaningful context to those needs, the company will likely never achieve its full potential.