Jack Barker: Growth. The more brilliant people we can get working here, then the faster we can get whatever’s in your head out into the world. Let me tell you a story. In 1999, Google was a little startup just like we are. And when they started bringing in chefs and masseuses, we thought, they’re nuts.But they were attracting the best possible people, and they were able to create the best product. And now they’re worth over $400 billion. And do you know the name of that company?
Richard Hendricks: Google, right? You said it at the beginning of the story.
Jack Barker: You’re right. I did that wrong. And the whole point is that all of this is a sound investment as long as we are able to get the best people and make the best possible product. Silicon Valley1
Talk of taking care of employees is popular. Whether it’s the recognition that many employees want more than just a paycheck, offering Google-like perks, or employees demanding a better life-work balance, many businesses are rethinking the company-employee relationship.
The problem is that many efforts are patchwork solutions: they provide benefits that hopefully outweigh the negatives of the work and, as a result, make the work more bearable.
Instead, businesses should start by thinking about how they can actually make the work easier and more enjoyable. And, the single easiest way to do this is by providing clarity.
Bringing Clarity to The Workplace
CLARITY IS KINDNESS!Ellen Marie Bennett2
When someone isn’t clear about their role, work becomes stressful.
Clarity in a business can take two forms:
- Day to Day: Being clear about an employee’s roles and responsibilities.
- Long-Term: Being clear about where the business as a whole is going and what it is trying to achieve, beyond just profit.
Without long-term clarity, you can’t offer day-to-day clarity to employees. And, you can’t expect them to be motivated by the work or be able to make the best decisions for the business.
Lack of clarity often starts at the top. Before a business can offer clarity to its employees, leadership must have clarity about where the business is going. Without that clarity, the bigger picture can’t be communicated to employees and it’s difficult to be able to tell employees what is important in their daily work that will help achieve a larger goal.
This lack of clarity has resulted in the plethora of vague job descriptions, core values that just exist on a poster on a wall, and business environments the produce managers that constantly change their minds and behave as poor leaders.
To have clarity, leadership needs to have—and communicate—a vision of what it wants the company to be like in the future.
Vision: Why You Need More Than a Statement
If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.Zig Ziglar3
To create a vision of the future, most companies create a vision statement. In the best-case scenarios, this gets repeated regularly. In the worst-case scenario, it gets buried in the employee handbook. In every scenario, it’s not enough.
Vision Statements are necessary because they point to a goal beyond profit. But, they’re not bound by time: they don’t tell anyone what a business with that vision should look like a year, or two years, or ten years down the line.
Without a time-bound company vision, it’s impossible to connect today’s work to tomorrow’s outcome.
A time-bound vision should be both something that can be seen but that is also motivating. In other words, it shouldn’t be so far in the future that you could never predict what the business will look like in that time, but it should be far enough in the future that it creates an ambitious goal—something that isn’t ambitious will never create long-term motivation.
For most businesses, we’ve found that creating a 3-year Company Vision best fulfills the balance between creating something that can be both imagined and ambitious.4
Creating a 3-Year Company Vision
And you may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”Talking Heads5
A 3-Year Company Vision should be detailed: it needs to answer the question of what should the company look like in 3 years, in as much detail as possible—it should run several pages.
Although what this looks like and what areas of the business need a detailed vision will be different for each business, we’ve found that there are four critical sections required for all companies looking to create a strong brand and clarity for their employees.
These four sections derive from the three elements from our model of building a strong brand: vision, culture, and customer. In our model, leadership creates a vision that inspires employees who translate your brand—through direct interaction, marketing, and products—to your customers.
Section 1: Overall 3-Year Company Vision
This section answers: what are the big goals—in line with your vision statement—that you want to achieve in 3 years?
These should be goals that significantly transform the business. They can be numerical goals or qualitative goals. But, the key is that should make the business different than it is today and make the business a better expression of its vision statement.
Section 2: Culture
Part of the reason for creating a 3-Year Company Vision isn’t to achieve the vision. It’s to become the type of company that could achieve that vision.
This section answers the question: what type of culture do we need and want to have in place to achieve our Overall 3-Year Company Vision?
Section 3: Marketing
This and the following section split the customer piece of our model of brand-building into two sections based on Peter Drucker’s idea of the functions of a business.
Peter Drucker wrote, “Because its purpose is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two—and only these two—basic functions: marketing and innovation.”6
True marketing involves understanding the customers’ needs and tensions and then translating how you solve those tensions and fulfill those needs back to them over and over again.
This section answers the question: what do we want and need our marketing to be like in order to achieve our Overall 3-Year Company Vision?
Section 4: Innovation
The final section is the second piece of the customer element of brand building: innovation.
This section answers the question: what do we want and need our products and/or our services to be like to achieve our Overall 3-Year Company Vision?
There are three kinds of relationships one can have with work: you either have a job, a career, or a calling.Chip Conley7
Perks are great, but they’ll never make employees stop thinking of their work as a job and instead embrace it as a calling. And, in most cases, they just cover up underlying problems like a stressful job due to a lack of clarity in one’s own roles and the business’s direction rather than solving the underlying issue by giving clarity to the entire organization.
Creating clarity about the vision of the business is the best way to be kind to employees because it influences every part of their workday. And, having clarity allows leadership to be kind to themselves: it enables leaders to better understand what intitiatives will actually contribute to the long-term health of the organization.
Creating clarity starts with creating a vision statement and then translating that Vision Statement into a detailed 3-Year Company Vision that is easily understood by the whole organization. It lets them know where they need to go so they can evaluate decisions in the context of how to best get there. It stops them from guessing because they have a better idea of how to connect today with tomorrow in a way that’s compatible with everyone else in the organization.
That can reduce a lot of stress. It can even give your employees a calling.
Be kind. Create Clarity.
- “Two in The Box, Silcon Valley, Season 3, Episode 2, 2016. ↩
- Ellen Marie Bennett with Sarah Tamlinson, Dream First, Details Later: How to Quit Overthinking & Make It Happen, 2021. ↩
- Tom Ziglar, “If you aim at nothing…,” Ziglar.com. ↩
- We’ve found that the ideal timeframe for creating a time-bound vision is 3 to 5 years out. Whether it’s 3 or 5 depends on many factors such as the type of industry and where the company is in its lifecycle, executive turnover, and how comfortable the business is with projecting. For the majority of businesses, 3 years is best. ↩
- Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime,” Remain in Light, 1980. ↩
- Peter F Drucker, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, 1973. ↩
- Chip Conley, Peak: How Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow, 2007. ↩