So you've developed a great product, a consistent growing customer base, stakeholders, and everything is going perfect. Seems like a fairy tale right? You never created a vision? Who needs that? Your business is doing FINE, why make any changes after so much time, right? Wrong.
One of the BIGGEST downfalls of not having a company vision is over a long period of time, you'll have changes in employees and there will always be a newer set of people working at your company. Company culture can evolve and change the the whole feel of working with others. Do you have a set of core values and principals for the employees to follow? What about a core purpose that would help inspire and encourage employees to do bigger things for your business? You don't have any of these? Oh right, because you think your business is doing just fine without. Even if you think you don't need values or a vision, you'd be surprised your company most likely HAS a vision, but maybe it's not laid out in words. A common interview question asked to a CEO, "If you can go back in time and change one thing about your business, what would it be?" It's commonly answered as, "I wish I created our company core values from the beginning".
The purpose of this blog post is to help dig deep into your business's core roots and help define the vision that you've been searching for.
As an example, I'm going to create all 4 of these for the company I work for. Take note it's just an example and not "in place" to help you with your company's vision. (I was part of the team for the initial process of building the company vision. The finalization process moved towards upper management).
There are 4 parts of your Vision that you'll need to put together, and it's very basic.
A Core Ideology is our internal deep core values. A set of shared beliefs within a group. What is so true to us that we all passionately hold? That if someone doesn't fit this thought, that maybe they aren't true to the company? This doesn't need to be any set words. A Core ideology is something that can be said 200 different times, but have the same meaning and understanding with everyone at the company, in all perspectives.
Having a clear core ideology will help with the hiring process as you want to bring in others that will fit the company's culture. It will help you guide your company vision and really influence the direction and discipline of your company as well.
A core ideology is your Core Values + Core Purpose.
Core values consist of 3-5 values about your company. If you find yourself having a longer list than 5, then you are doing it incorrectly. You're probably listing out obvious business practices that would make sense for any other business to follow.
A core value is the reason for being. The reason to exist as a business. It's a very deep value that if you think down 50 years existing as a business, these core values will still be very accurate. A core value can never be "completed" as it's an ongoing value that everyone abides by. If your product changes, the market changes, your pricing and company structure changes, your core values should never change.
Here are a few examples of company values unique to the company:
Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts - "Advancing Cancer Research", "Supporting Sustainability"
Facebook - "Build Social Value"
Disney - "Entertaining the world through imagination"
Google - "Focus on the user and all else will follow", "The need for information crosses all borders"
Then there's all the very, very basic core values that are very common to a majority of companies, such as:
And so many others. Of course it's okay to have similar core values, but you don't want to list 50 different things that seem obvious. Southwest Airlines has 22 core values. You can see they couldn't decide what was most important to them to the core. You really need to think to the very root of your company on what is most important.
For example, the core roots of the company I work for, if I look at the very heart of the company relates to two areas: Customers and Culture.
With our customers, we make them a priority and we go above and beyond by every possibility to ensure everyone is happy with our product. So if I had to create our first Core Value, it would be:
"Treat Customers How We'd Like to Be Treated"
This would cover many different areas for core values. Respect. Trust. Drive. Work Hard. Teamwork. Excellence. Community. Doing the Right Thing. Humility. Integrity. One thing that makes the company I work for stand out is their "Above and Beyond" attitude. We have one of the best customer service representatives, who also all have knowledge of programming to be able to help with highly technical questions. We have Sales people who care about the customers as if they are someone we'd have dinner with and just have a fun chat. I'm on the Developer Relations team, and our team cares more about educating developers than we are at profits. We have departments that care about customers solving problems with integrations. Departments that really care about innovation and keeping up with the needs of customers as their technology/applications evolve. And so forth...
Secondly, as someone who is still kind-of new to my company (a year and a half) , it's hard to really evaluate what the true core values are without being part of the company from the beginning, but on a slightly outside perspective, one thing that internally makes the company so successful is the family-like culture. So the second Core Value I'd create would be:
"Embrace our Cloudinary Family"
The reasoning behind this is because, since the very beginning of the company, people seem to care deeply about each other not only on a business level, but on a personal level as well. People work together very well as a team, everyone works as a leader in their own way. We embrace each other's differences and listen to each other's opinions and feedback that helps gain different perspectives on decisions. Because we act as one big family, we all have fun working together and individuals are more comfortable speaking up about what they believe in. Although transparency between teams is always an issue at most companies, I believe the company I work for has better transparency than other companies I've worked at in the past, and a big part of this is because of the "family" like feel. No matter the position of someone, they speak to you as if you are an equal part as we are all working together to accomplish one major goal.
So if I were to give my company core values, it would only be these two. One that represents us externally and one that represents us internally, down to the core.
A Core Purpose is also something that is "never completed". A core purpose guides the task. What do you make? Why do you make it? Why is that important? Why should people care about using your product? Why do you even exist?
Your Core Purpose needs to inspire everyone at your company at all levels. This is the icing on the cake. The key to having a successful business. Your Core Purpose is so deep that you should see something that is a great loss if this business ever just "stops" and "doesn't exist" anymore.
A Core Purpose is NOT a mission or value.
Examples of Company's and their Core Purpose:
3M - "To solve unsolved problems innovatively"
Hewlett-Packard - "To strengthen the social fabric by continually democratizing home ownership"
Nike - "To experience the emotion of competition, winning, and crushing competitors"
Sony - "To experience the joy of advancing and applying technology for the benefit of the public".
One of the reasons why Sony became so successful from the beginning is their change in Japanese technology. One of their missions were to only create high end items to change the reputation of the quality of products you can buy from Japan, which made them one of the most successful technology companies in the world.
To simplify it, you are asking yourself one question "Why does your company believe they can make a difference?"
If I had to create a Core Purpose/Vision statement for the company I work at, it would be along these lines of:
"To simplify the media experience for all individuals"
To advance the media experience so simple and unique that everyone will use it
After you determine the Why (Purpose), the What (Vision), you now come up with your How (Mission). A mission is your path to purpose. Your mission is your plan of action. What makes you unique and what decisions will you make to get to that destination?
What is our promise to the world?
Example Mission Statements:
Tesla - "Tesla's mission is to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy."
Google - "Our mission is to organize the world's information and make it universially accessible and useful."
Nike - "To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete"
Water.org - "To bring safe water and sanitation to the world"
Starbucks - "To inspire and nurture the human spirit - one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time."
Verizon - "We deliver the promise of the digital world to our customers".
An example I'd create for Cloudinary:
First off, let me think of some keywords that make sense to our promises to users:
- Enhancing our media experience
- Making it easy for non-developers to use with our Digital Asset Management system
- Making it easy for developers to use with improved developer experience
- The internet is powered by media
- Improving the Rich-media experience
To make the media experience unique and innovative
or keeping it simple to what content we already have that exists:
To create an engaging digital media experience (kind of what's on the homepage already)
Another fun thought:
To power the entire web with our rich-media experience with our unique and innovative product
BHAG stands for "Big Hairy Audacious Goal" which is a slightly weird acronym. I thought it was a joke when I first read it, but it definitely isn't. This is your vision statement. Your core statement of what your company stands for and will influence everything - culture, employees, productivity, and overall everything your company stands for.
Creating a BHAG for your company is highly important. It's a clearly articulated goal that is extremely inspiring to everyone. A goal that everyone at the company feels inspired by that makes everyone continue to work harder. It creates the drive and momentum at the company. When you move forward 10 years down the road at your company, let's say 80% of the employees are new in the last 5 years, the company's vision won't be lost. No matter the rotation of new employees, everyone will still have this very clear goal about your company, driving more productivity and energy, which will be seen through the quality of your product/technology.
Different Types of BHAGs
Heinz - "To be the world's premier food company, offering nutritious, superior tasting foods to people everywhere"
Amazon - "Our vision is to be the 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".
If I had to create a BHAG for Cloudinary, it would be:
"To be the leading provider for media and simplifying the ability to integrate with every application in the world for the use of managing media, while being unique and committing to innovation and changes in media technology.
The reason behind why I chose this as our BHAG, or our Vision. This is a goal that we can forever work towards and have the company all aligned on the same objective, no matter how our strategy changes. (Take note again this is just an exercise example, not actuality). Currently we are the leading provider when it comes to the use of media technology for automating image and video processing workflows by way of media management and using S3 to store files. Half of our customers are Developers and the other half are Non-Developers, and we make sure we can cater to both sides of the pool. If I imagined our company in 30 years, yes we will still be catering to both developers and non-developers. Keeping up with changes in technology? We take that very seriously as we have individuals at our company who are constantly researching and making sure we are ahead of the game when it comes to innovating our product. We keep up to date with compliance and standards, such as GDPR Compliance. Staying unique as a company? This is one thing that attracted me to working here. It's a unique product that isn't trying to "keep up with competitors while just adding more features". Cloudinary is it's own unique platform creating it's own vision in a way that makes it a unique product as well as experience.
It's never too late to start building your company vision. Waiting another 10 years and realizing you should have done it long ago is where you want to prevent your company from heading. Start now while you are ahead!
One of the biggest concerns is, "Okay, so we threw up a page for our company vision. We told employees where the page is but no one really knows it's there or what's on the page".
This can easily be solved by going over company vision during your All-Hands company meetings as well as department meetings. This needs to be reminded to employees on a monthly basis so it's never forgotten by asking each other what they did that fits the company vision.
Image Credit: https://unsplash.com/@austinchan
Book - "HBR's 10 Must Reads On Strategy"
Article - "10 Companies with Core Values That Actually Reflect Their Culture" by Ross Brooks
Article - "190 Examples of Company Values"
Article - "How to Discover Your Company's Core Purpose"
Article - "Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG)"