A 3-Step Process to Defining your Company’s Vision

Jeff Gardner By: Jeff Gardner  |  January 18, 2021

“If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.”
― Simon Sinek

The best organizations have a clear vision that guides their direction with purpose, meaningful core values, and a mission around which the team can rally. How is your organization approaching vision?

And, most importantly—why worry about vision?

The only sustainable method for keeping great people on your team is to provide them with challenging, meaningful work in pursuit of a vision in which they believe. This is your most important job as a leader. Unfortunately, it is much more common to see a rudderless organization floating wherever the wind takes them than to find one with a clear vision moving toward an intentional destination.

If you want to achieve greatness, you must have a vision for your organization. Then, you must clearly define your vision and ensure that each person on your team is pursuing the same vision.

I’ve worked with companies that said, “We are small and don’t need a vision.” Wrong. Successful organizations create vision when they are small, and that vision guides their growth.  I’ve had other companies say, “We want to remain small and personal.” Great! If that is part of your vision, articulate it. Having a clear vision from the start will help insulate you from potential distractions.

The point is: you have to create a vision to guide your organization, regardless of whether you intend to remain small, or if you want to sit on top of the S&P 500.

There are three core benefits you will achieve with a strong vision.

  1. You will create purpose and meaning for each of your team members. More so today than at any point in history, it is critical to provide meaningful work for your people. The newest workforce generation is demanding to find meaning in their work. Meaningful work can only come from organizations with strong vision.
  2. You will strengthen team unity. A clear picture of the future unites teams. It is the catalyst that bonds people through shared beliefs. When everyone knows and believes in the vision, they are more likely to have each other’s backs.
  3. You will create a guidepost against which to evaluate new opportunities and to make important business decisions. A great example of this is Johnson & Johnson, the makers of Tylenol. In 1982, someone added cyanide to Tylenol, resulting in seven fatalities. Despite the government recommending against a national recall, Johnson and Johnson voluntarily recalled all Tylenol, costing the company over $100 million. In making this decision, Johnson & Johnson’s CEO cited the first line of the company’s credo, written in 1943 when they were small and privately held: “We believe our first responsibility is to the patients, doctors and nurses, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products.”¹ Most companies would have looked at the financial implications and likely made a different decision. Johnson & Johnson relied on their founding vision and acted accordingly. (Important side note—this action boosted consumer confidence in Johnson & Johnson. Within a year of releasing their tamper-resistant Tylenol, they regained their market leadership position.)

Find the right framework

Most leaders recognize the need for vision at an intellectual level but find the concept to be nebulous and don’t know where to start. If you search, you will find many different vision frameworks. Most are horribly confusing and overly complex. I recommend using the simple framework introduced by Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, known as the Collins-Porras Vision Framework.

I like this framework because it is simple and clear. Remember—your job is not only to create a vision; it is to create a shared vision that your team will pursue in earnest. If your vision is too complex, it will not stick. The Collins-Porras framework is a simple method based on compelling research by Collins and his team.

The Collins-Porras Vision Framework has three components:

  1. Purpose – The fundamental reason why your organization exists. You should plan on your purpose enduring beyond your lifetime. It is something that you will work toward, but never fully achieve.
  2. Core Values – The fundamental set of beliefs that your organization holds as absolute. This is how you behave as an organization. This is not aspirational. It must be authentic.
  3. Mission – The big goal you are pursuing. Some call this the Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). Think of your mission as a three-year goal for the business.

Together these three things – Purpose, Core Values, and Mission – make up the vision of your organization. That’s it. Nothing more. Don’t waste time complicating the matter. Your vision must be simple and clear.

In this three-part series, we will break down each of these elements to better understand how to develop them in your organization.

Vision Building Part 1: The Purpose

Purpose is the reason you exist as an organization. Your purpose should not change. It must be broad enough to not box you in. It must be inspirational for you, your team, and anyone involved with your organization. It should be aspirational, as you will likely never fully realize your purpose. Your purpose must outlive you.

A purpose is not quantifiable. It is emotional. It must elicit an emotional response from you, your team, your customers and your investors. Your purpose must come from the heart. Don’t compromise. Compromise is how you end up with long-winded, watered-down purpose statements. The fewer words the better.

As an example, Martin Luther King’s purpose might have been, “to end racial discrimination and segregation in the United States.” Concise, clear, inspirational and unfortunately, long-living.

When I was CEO at Zen Planner, our purpose was to “make small businesses wildly successful – to transform the hearts, minds, and bodies of their communities.” We provided software to fitness and wellness businesses. Our goal was to be the only software they needed to run their business—from signing up new customers, to scheduling classes, to collecting payments. Our customers consisted largely of boutique fitness studios, martial art schools and yoga studios. These small business owners started their business because they were passionate about fitness, wellness and making people’s lives better. The last thing they wanted to do was spend time collecting payments or managing waitlists. At Zen Planner, our purpose was to make them successful by eliminating as much of the work in their business as possible. We were committed to freeing them up so they could transform the hearts, minds and bodies of their communities.

We believed this purpose to our core. Every week we shared examples of how this impacted our customers. We only hired people who believed in this purpose. It guided our product development and everything we did. We had a huge number of customers and just about all of our business partners chose to do business with us because of our purpose and how passionately we believed in it.

EXAMPLES OF ORGANIZATIONS WITH A STRONG STATED PURPOSE:

  • Tesla: To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.
  • Honest Tea: To create and promote great-tasting, healthy, organic beverages.
  • Warby Parker: To offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.
  • Mary Kay Cosmetics: To give unlimited opportunity to women.
  • Merck: To preserve and improve human life.
  • Wal-Mart: We help people save money so they can live better.
  • Walt Disney: To make people happy.

A purpose you believe in

Once you have established your purpose statement, share it with everyone who interacts with your organization. Share it with investors to attract funding. Share with interview candidates to attract them to your team. Share it with potential customers so that they want to be part of what you are building.

Since you will constantly be sharing your purpose, you and your team must believe in it with every ounce of your being. Make sure it flows off your tongue. It must be easy to say, and it must be memorable.

Next up in this series: Part 2, Core Values


¹ Investopedia, "How Did Johnson and Johnson's Corporate Responsibility Policy Pay Off in 1982?", June 13, 2020, https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/011215/how-did-johnson-and-johnsons-corporate-responsibility-policy-pay-1982.asp

Jeff Gardner
Jeff is the former CEO of ZenPlanner, a Mainsail portfolio company. He currently serves on the Board of Directors at JobNimbus and Fullbay.
More by Jeff Gardner
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