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How to Make Sure You’re not Wasting the Next 5-10 Years of Your Professional Life
What is vision?
You would think that everyone comes into working knowing what they are doing and, more importantly, why.
Yet the last global report on job satisfaction, a Gallup poll from 2012, showed that only 13% of employees globally feel engaged with their work, with 24% actually disengaged (i.e. a polite way of saying they really f**ing hate their jobs). This means the vast majority of employees simply do not know what the purpose of their work is - and are suffering psychologically as a result.
You may assume that your team knows what the purpose of their work is, and how it ties into a goal greater than themselves, but the data would suggest otherwise, so it’s worth revisiting your vision & how you communicate it by paying close attention to this section (as well as exploring an aspect of vision almost every company overlooks).
A vision is our guiding light as a team. Our North Star. A single, concrete goal that everything we do is directed towards achieving.
It can be defined by the founders at the beginning of a new venture to provide direction.
It can be re-defined and revised as the team grows, with input from the team on an ongoing basis.
Vision can even be something defined for internal, autonomous product teams who form part of a larger corporation.
Our vision should be ambitious, but concrete. A challenge to achieve, but also realistic. A statement of what we want to achieve, but not necessarily what is actually achievable. It pushes the boundaries, therefore pushing us to reach it.
Why it’s important
Despite the clear importance of aligning the company’s efforts, many companies fail to define a clear vision, or fail to revise it as the nature of their company evolves and changes.
And this can be catastrophic to their endeavours.
Without a clear vision, we have no direction. No clear purpose.
Your company may effervesce with energy, with the whole team dedicated to their own idea of what the company should be doing, working hard, starting new projects, getting excited about what they hope to achieve.
You may all have a vision of - & busy yourself achieving - something, just not the one thing you should be focused on.
In such a state you will find yourself making no progress, as everyone is working on their own internal vision of what the company should do, heading in this direction, then another. Dragged left, right, backwards & forwards by competing interests & entirely different views of what the company should be doing.
Or they drift as a team, executing on a few clear strategies, but with no idea of what specifically those strategies are hoping to achieve. Working on something that works, but something that may not fit into a long-term vision.
Similarly to our discussion on focusing on the essential:
To focus on the essential, we need to know what the essential is.
To be effective, we need to be effective in relation to something - in the achievement of a goal, for example.
If we have no goal, we have no direction. Our efforts are essentially wasted, bubbling with energy, but lacking any clear focus.
How to align on a vision
How are we defining success?
Before jumping into creating our grandiose, exciting vision statement, it is integral to our longevity as a company to also ask ourselves a question many entrepreneurs ignore:
What do you want to spend the next 5-10 years working on?
In the get-rich-quick narrative of the modern startup world, where we tend to see overnight success stories of 16-year old billionaire nerds splashed across the front cover of magazine, we tend to forget - and therefore fail to address - the question of why we are committing ourselves to a startup.
We must realise the gravity of this commitment before we jump in:
That running or working in a startup is very different from what we imagine it to be. It is not a simple case of jumping in, pushing out an exciting product after a few weeks of brainstorming, getting a bit of growth post-release, getting acquired by a Google or Facebook, then sitting on a beach for the rest of our lives enjoying ice-cold margaritas and watching the sunset for the two-hundred-and-thirty- first day in a row.
The reality of a startup is one where we are committing ourselves indefinitely to an enterprise with an uncertain outcome, in an environment of extreme uncertainty, on difficult, uncertain & highly complex decision-making on a daily basis. Furthermore, that the enterprise will require years of our life dedicated to taking it from zero to a “successful” company (a term we will define below).
And that even those looking for a strategic exit to a bigger company as quickly as possible (the get-rich-quick scheme), their startup will require a lot of time, money and personal commitment to get it to that stage, if it even manages to succeed.
Throughout this book, we have referred to startup “success” in generic terms as creating a business that is profitable and sustainable in the long-term.
Yet defining what precisely “success” means to you and your team is the first, and most important, question you can ask yourself when determining your vision. Unfortunately, it is one businesses rarely ask.
To define what “success” means to us, we need to ask ourselves the following questions:
1. What do I want?
What do I personally want to get out of my commitment to this startup? Is learning a priority for me? Making money? Or is it simply helping others solve a problem they have?
2. What does the team want?
Considering our individual goals for the business, where do our interests align? Are we interested in fanfare and publicity to build our personal status? Or are we happy going under the radar and providing a great public service?
Maybe we just want to enjoy the ride and the interesting work our startup provides us with?
3. What kind of company should we build to fulfil what I & the team want?
Once we can align around a shared common goal, it’s also important to be clear on how we want to get there:
What kind of company do we want to build?
If we want to exit and sell, why? And what happens next? If so, are we happy sacrificing all of our work as an independent business to potentially see the company fail under the guidance of a corporation? Do we believe that the money gained from a sale will provide us the financial security and fuel to then launch a second business? Or are we simply happy with a strategy of selling business after business? For the rest of our working lives?
Or are we building something to last? Are we willing to bootstrap to avoid external investors? Are we willing to commit 10+ years of our life to work towards our vision?
Do we want to manage ourselves differently? And question convention? Do we want to emphasise the value of concrete learnings & impactful work, or simply efficiency and getting a lot done?
And, in terms of how we act: What will we do and what will we not do? Sell customer data in unscrupulous ways? Pursue growth at all costs, regardless of the customer’s interests? Show annoying ads? Or work on marketing real value to customers?
Asking kinds of questions, however, is integral to your long-term success as a company, as they will come up at some point in the lifetime of the company.
Therefore simply book 30 minutes with your team, take a walk or book a meeting room, and simply define what success means for you as a team, asking these 3 questions:
1. What do I want? 2. What does the team want? 3. What kind of company do you all want to build?
Better to be transparent and clear on this early, rather than realising we all see success differently further down the road.