What? The company doesn't need a vision? Heresy you say?
I have to agree and we’ll come back to this article’s title in a minute. First let’s talk about vision a bit.
Obviously a company and possibly even separate organizations within a company need a vision that everyone can understand and rally around. A corporate or organizational vision is something that every employee can use to connect the dots between what they are doing and how it matters in the bigger picture. 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.
What are the qualities of a 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 its 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 the title of this article. A vision is not what you need, it's what you are trying to accomplish, it's what drives the efforts of the company or the organization. A vision is 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. “The vision of CompanyABC is to have $200 million in annual revenue by fiscal year 2015”. Take that statement and apply the qualities I listed above. Its “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. I submit that even if that financial success translated directly to some level of financial success for the staff, its still not nearly as powerful as a statement that says something about why what the company does actually matters to people other than the employees. 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 a vision statement that talks about a need 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 know (without looking it up) whose vision statement that is. The statement is simple, easy to understand and it talks about what the company should be, not what it needs. Its pretty easy to see how anyone 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, its easy to digest, you don’t have to refer back to it every day to remind yourself what it is or what t means.
Its my feeling that if thought and attention is paid to crafting a vision, nurturing that vision and helping others understand why its important, 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 the company run but without something to give that engine purpose, its just a bunch of parts moving around and generating (virtual) heat. More specifically, without a strong vision, I can bring process and technology to bear on the needs of the business but how does one get the people lined up behind those needs without having meaningful context to those needs?