Building Your Company’sVisionby James C. Collins and Jerry I. PorrasHarvard Business ReviewReprint 96501
HarvardBusinessReview                                                                        SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 1996       ...
HBR                                               SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 1996                                by James C. Collin...
VISION   Truly great companies understand the difference       company exists to make technical contributions forbetween w...
fundamental and deeply held that they will change    Articulating a Vision                                 seldom, if ever...
Core Values Are a Company’s Essential Tenets     Merck                                                Encouraging individu...
VISIONness strategies (which should change many times              velop new systems for reducing mortgage under-in 100 ye...
VISIONDisney had conceived of his company’s purpose as          ite Rock Company of Watsonville, California, wonto make ca...
be shut down, its brand names would be shelved          all know that isn’t a core value around here!”) Aspi-forever, and ...
VISION   Don’t confuse core ideology itself with core-             Identifying core values and purpose is thereforeideolog...
known.… Sony has a principle of respecting and en-          somewhat paradoxical. On the one hand, it conveyscouraging one...
VISIONto think in terms of four broad categories: target        In the 1930s, Merck had the BHAG to transformBHAGs, common...
Identifying core ideology is a discovery process,     envisioned future should be so exciting in its ownbut setting the en...
Putting It All Together: Sony in the 1950s     Core Ideology                                            Envisioned Future ...
VISIONmost of those statements turn out to be a muddled           drop in from outer space and infer your vision fromstew ...
Harvard Business ReviewHBR Subscriptions              Harvard Business Review                               U.S. and Canad...
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Building a vision

  1. 1. Building Your Company’sVisionby James C. Collins and Jerry I. PorrasHarvard Business ReviewReprint 96501
  3. 3. HBR SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 1996 by James C. Collins and Jerry I. PorrasWe shall not cease from exploration tions its structure and revamps its processes whileAnd the end of all our exploring preserving the ideals embodied in its credo. In 1996,Will be to arrive where we started 3M sold off several of its large mature businesses –And know the place for the first time. a dramatic move that surprised the business press – to refocus on its enduring core purpose of solving T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets unsolved problems innovatively. We studied com- panies such as these in our research for Built to Companies that enjoy enduring success have Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companiescore values and a core purpose that remain fixed and found that they have outperformed the generalwhile their business strategies and practices end- stock market by a factor of 12 since 1925.lessly adapt to a changing world. The dynamic ofpreserving the core while stimulating progress James C. Collins is a management educator and writeris the reason that companies such as Hewlett- based in Boulder, Colorado, where he operates a man-Packard, 3M, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gam- agement learning laboratory for conducting researchble, Merck, Sony, Motorola, and Nordstrom be- and working with executives. He is also a visiting profes- sor of business administration at the University of Vir-came elite institutions able to renew themselves ginia in Charlottesville. Jerry I. Porras is the Lane Profes-and achieve superior long-term performance. sor of Organizational Behavior and Change at StanfordHewlett-Packard employees have long known that University’s Graduate School of Business in Stanford,radical change in operating practices, cultural California, where he is also the director of the Executivenorms, and business strategies does not mean los- Program in Leading and Managing Change. Collins anding the spirit of the HP Way – the company’s core Porras are coauthors of Built to Last: Successful Habits ofprinciples. Johnson & Johnson continually ques- Visionary Companies (HarperBusiness, 1994).HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW September-October 1996 Copyright © 1996 by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras. All rights reserved.
  4. 4. VISION Truly great companies understand the difference company exists to make technical contributions forbetween what should never change and what the advancement and welfare of humanity. Compa-should be open for change, between what is gen- ny builders such as David Packard, Masaru Ibuka ofuinely sacred and what is not. This rare ability to Sony, George Merck of Merck, William McKnightmanage continuity and change – requiring a con- of 3M, and Paul Galvin of Motorola understood thatsciously practiced discipline – is closely linked to it is more important to know who you are thanthe ability to develop a vision. Vision provides guid- where you are going, for where you are going willance about what core to preserve and what future to change as the world around you changes. Leadersstimulate progress toward. But vision has become die, products become obsolete, markets change,one of the most overused and least understood new technologies emerge, and management fadswords in the language, conjuring up different im- come and go, but core ideology in a great companyages for different people: of deeply held values, out- endures as a source of guidance and inspiration.standing achievement, societal bonds, exhilarating Core ideology provides the glue that holds angoals, motivating forces, or raisons d’être. We rec- organization together as it grows, decentralizes, di-ommend a conceptual framework to define vision, versifies, expands globally, and develops workplaceadd clarity and rigor to the vague and fuzzy con- diversity. Think of it as analogous to the principlescepts swirling around that trendy term, and give of Judaism that held the Jewish people together forpractical guidance for articulating a coherent vision centuries without a homeland, even as they spreadwithin an organization. It is a prescriptive frame- throughout the Diaspora. Or think of the truthswork rooted in six years of research and refined and held to be self-evident in the Declaration of Inde-tested by our ongoing work with executives from a pendence, or the enduring ideals and principles ofgreat variety of organizations around the world. the scientific community that bond scientists from A well-conceived vision consists of two major every nationality together in the common purposecomponents: core ideology and envisioned future. of advancing human knowledge. Any effective vi-(See the exhibit “Articulating a Vision.”) Core ide- sion must embody the core ideology of the organi-ology, the yin in our scheme, defines what we stand zation, which in turn consists of two distinct parts:for and why we exist. Yin is unchanging and com- core values, a system of guiding principles andplements yang, the envisioned future. The envi- tenets; and core purpose, the organization’s mostsioned future is what we aspire to become, to fundamental reason for existence.achieve, to create – something that will require sig- Core Values. Core values are the essential and en-nificant change and progress to attain. during tenets of an organization. A small set of timeless guiding principles, core values require no external justification; they have intrinsic value andCore Ideology importance to those inside the organization. The Core ideology defines the enduring character of Walt Disney Company’s core values of imaginationan organization – a consistent identity that tran- and wholesomeness stem not from market require-scends product or market life cycles, technological ments but from the founder’s inner belief thatbreakthroughs, management fads, and individual imagination and wholesomeness should be nur-leaders. In fact, the most lasting and significant tured for their own sake. William Procter and Jamescontribution of those who build visionary com- Gamble didn’t instill in P&G’s culture a focus onpanies is the core ideology. As Bill Hewlett said product excellence merely as a strategy for successabout his longtime friend and busi-ness partner David Packard uponPackard’s death not long ago, “As faras the company is concerned, the Core ideology provides the gluegreatest thing he left behind him wasa code of ethics known as the HP that holds an organizationWay.” HP‘s core ideology, which hasguided the company since its incep- together through time.tion more than 50 years ago, includesa deep respect for the individual, a dedication to af- but as an almost religious tenet. And that value hasfordable quality and reliability, a commitment to been passed down for more than 15 decades by P&Gcommunity responsibility (Packard himself be- people. Service to the customer – even to the pointqueathed his $4.3 billion of Hewlett-Packard stock of subservience – is a way of life at Nordstrom thatto a charitable foundation), and a view that the traces its roots back to 1901, eight decades before66 HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW September-October 1996
  5. 5. fundamental and deeply held that they will change Articulating a Vision seldom, if ever. To identify the core values of your own organiza- tion, push with relentless honesty to define what values are truly central. If you articulate more than Core Ideology five or six, chances are that you are confusing core Core values values (which do not change) with operating prac- Core purpose tices, business strategies, or cultural norms (which should be open to change). Remember, the values must stand the test of time. After you’ve drafted a preliminary list of the core values, ask about each one, If the circumstances changed and penalized us for holding this core value, would we still keep it? If Envisioned Future you can’t honestly answer yes, then the value is not 10-to-30-year BHAG core and should be dropped from consideration. (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal) Vivid description A high-technology company wondered whether it should put quality on its list of core values. The CEO asked, “Suppose in ten years quality doesn’t make a hoot of difference in our markets. Suppose the only thing that matters is sheer speed and horsepower but not quality. Would we still want tocustomer service programs became stylish. For Bill put quality on our list of core values?” The mem-Hewlett and David Packard, respect for the individ- bers of the management team looked around at oneual was first and foremost a deep personal value; another and finally said no. Quality stayed in thethey didn’t get it from a book or hear it from a man- strategy of the company, and quality-improvementagement guru. And Ralph S. Larsen, CEO of John- programs remained in place as a mechanism forson & Johnson, puts it this way: “The core values stimulating progress; but quality did not make theembodied in our credo might be a competitive list of core values.advantage, but that is not why we have them. We The same group of executives then wrestled withhave them because they define for us what we stand leading-edge innovation as a core value. The CEOfor, and we would hold them even if they became asked, “Would we keep innovation on the list asa competitive disadvantage in certain situations.” a core value, no matter how the world around us The point is that a great company decides for changed?” This time, the management team gaveitself what values it holds to be core, largely inde- a resounding yes. The managers’ outlook might bependent of the current environment, competitive summarized as, “We always want to do leading-requirements, or management fads. Clearly, then, edge innovation. That’s who we are. It’s really im-there is no universally right set of core values. portant to us and always will be. No matter what.A company need not have as its core value cus- And if our current markets don’t value it, we willtomer service (Sony doesn’t) or respect for the indi- find markets that do.” Leading-edge innovationvidual (Disney doesn’t) or quality (Wal-Mart Stores went on the list and will stay there. A companydoesn’t) or market focus (HP doesn’t) or teamwork should not change its core values in response to(Nordstrom doesn’t). A company might have oper- market changes; rather, it should change markets,ating practices and business strategies around those if necessary, to remain true to its core values.qualities without having them at the essence of its Who should be involved in articulating the corebeing. Furthermore, great companies need not have values varies with the size, age, and geographic dis-likable or humanistic core values, although many persion of the company, but in many situations wedo. The key is not what core values an organization have recommended what we call a Mars Group. Ithas but that it has core values at all. works like this: Imagine that you’ve been asked to Companies tend to have only a few core values, re-create the very best attributes of your organiza-usually between three and five. In fact, we found tion on another planet but you have seats on thethat none of the visionary companies we studied in rocket ship for only five to seven people. Whomour book had more than five: most had only three or should you send? Most likely, you’ll choose thefour. (See the insert “Core Values Are a Company’s people who have a gut-level understanding of yourEssential Tenets.”) And, indeed, we should expect core values, the highest level of credibility withthat. Only a few values can be truly core – that is, so their peers, and the highest levels of competence.HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW September-October 1996 67
  6. 6. Core Values Are a Company’s Essential Tenets Merck Encouraging individual initiative Corporate social responsibility Opportunity based on merit; no one is entitled Unequivocal excellence in all aspects of to anything the company Hard work and continuous self-improvement Science-based innovation Honesty and integrity Sony Profit, but profit from work that benefits Elevation of the Japanese culture and humanity national status Being a pioneer – not following others; doing Nordstrom the impossible Service to the customer above all else Encouraging individual ability and creativity Hard work and individual productivity Never being satisfied Walt Disney Excellence in reputation; being part of No cynicism something special Nurturing and promulgation of “wholesome American values” Philip Morris Creativity, dreams, and imagination The right to freedom of choice Fanatical attention to consistency and detail Winning – beating others in a good fight Preservation and control of the Disney magicWe’ll often ask people brought together to work on that should not change and practices and strategiescore values to nominate a Mars Group of five to that should be changing all the individuals (not necessarily all from the as- Core Purpose. Core purpose, the second part ofsembled group). Invariably, they end up selecting core ideology, is the organization’s reason for being.highly credible representatives who do a super job An effective purpose reflects people’s idealistic mo-of articulating the core values precisely because tivations for doing the company’s work. It doesn’tthey are exemplars of those values–a representative just describe the organization’s output or targetslice of the company’s genetic code. customers; it captures the soul of the organization. Even global organizations composed of people (See the insert “Core Purpose Is a Company’s Rea-from widely diverse cultures can identify a set of son for Being.”) Purpose, as illustrated by a speechshared core values. The secret is to work from the David Packard gave to HP employees in 1960, getsindividual to the organization. People involved in at the deeper reasons for an organization’s existencearticulating the core values need to answer several beyond just making money. Packard said,questions: What core values do you personallybring to your work? (These should be so fundamen- I want to discuss why a company exists in the first place.tal that you would hold them regardless of whether In other words, why are we here? I think many peopleor not they were rewarded.) What would you tell assume, wrongly, that a company exists simply to makeyour children are the core values that you hold at money. While this is an important result of a company’swork and that you hope they will hold when they existence, we have to go deeper and find the real reasonsbecome working adults? If you awoke tomorrow for our being. As we investigate this, we inevitably come to the conclusion that a group of people get together andmorning with enough money to retire for the rest of exist as an institution that we call a company so they areyour life, would you continue to live those core val- able to accomplish something collectively that theyues? Can you envision them being as valid for you could not accomplish separately – they make a contribu-100 years from now as they are today? Would you tion to society, a phrase which sounds trite but is funda-want to hold those core values, even if at some mental.… You can look around [in the general businesspoint one or more of them became a competitive world and] see people who are interested in money anddisadvantage? If you were to start a new organiza- nothing else, but the underlying drives come largely fromtion tomorrow in a different line of work, what core a desire to do something else: to make a product, to givevalues would you build into the new organization a service – generally to do something which is of value.1regardless of its industry? The last three questionsare particularly important because they make the Purpose (which should last at least 100 years)crucial distinction between enduring core values should not be confused with specific goals or busi-68 HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW September-October 1996
  7. 7. VISIONness strategies (which should change many times velop new systems for reducing mortgage under-in 100 years). Whereas you might achieve a goal or writing costs by 40% in five years; programs tocomplete a strategy, you cannot fulfill a purpose; it eliminate discrimination in the lending processis like a guiding star on the horizon – forever pur- (backed by $5 billion in underwriting experiments);sued but never reached. Yet although purpose itself and an audacious goal to provide, by the year 2000,does not change, it does inspire change. The very $1 trillion targeted at 10 million families that hadfact that purpose can never be fully realized means traditionally been shut out of home ownership –that an organization can never stop stimulating minorities, immigrants, and low-income groups.change and progress. Similarly, 3M defines its purpose not in terms of In identifying purpose, some companies make adhesives and abrasives but as the perpetual questthe mistake of simply describing their current prod- to solve unsolved problems innovatively–a purposeuct lines or customer segments. Wedo not consider the following state-ment to reflect an effective purpose:“We exist to fulfill our government Core ideology consists of corecharter and participate in the sec-ondary mortgage market by pack- values and core purpose.aging mortgages into investmentsecurities.” The statement is merely Core purpose is a raison d’être,descriptive. A far more effectivestatement of purpose would be that not a goal or business strategy.expressed by the executives of theFederal National Mortgage Association, Fannie that is always leading 3M into new fields. McKin-Mae: “To strengthen the social fabric by continual- sey & Company’s purpose is not to do managemently democratizing home ownership.” The secondary consulting but to help corporations and govern-mortgage market as we know it might not even ex- ments be more successful: in 100 years, it mightist in 100 years, but strengthening the social fabric involve methods other than consulting. Hewlett-by continually democratizing home ownership can Packard doesn’t exist to make electronic test andbe an enduring purpose, no matter how much the measurement equipment but to make technicalworld changes. Guided and inspired by this pur- contributions that improve people’s lives – a pur-pose, Fannie Mae launched in the early 1990s a se- pose that has led the company far afield from itsries of bold initiatives, including a program to de- origins in electronic instruments. Imagine if Walt Core Purpose Is a Company’s Reason for Being 3M: To solve unsolved problems innovatively McKinsey & Company: To help leading corporations and governments be more successful Cargill: To improve the standard of living around the world Merck: To preserve and improve human life Fannie Mae: To strengthen the social fabric by Nike: To experience the emotion of competition, continually democratizing home ownership winning, and crushing competitors Hewlett-Packard: To make technical contributions Sony: To experience the joy of advancing and applying for the advancement and welfare of humanity technology for the benefit of the public Lost Arrow Corporation: To be a role model and a Telecare Corporation: To help people with mental tool for social change impairments realize their full potential Pacific Theatres: To provide a place for people to Wal-Mart: To give ordinary folk the chance to buy the flourish and to enhance the community same things as rich people Mary Kay Cosmetics: To give unlimited opportunity Walt Disney: To make people happy to womenHARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW September-October 1996 69
  8. 8. VISIONDisney had conceived of his company’s purpose as ite Rock Company of Watsonville, California, wonto make cartoons, rather than to make people the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award – nothappy; we probably wouldn’t have Mickey Mouse, an easy feat for a small rock quarry and asphaltDisneyland, EPCOT Center, or the Anaheim Mighty company. And Granite Rock has gone on to be oneDucks Hockey Team. of the most progressive and exciting companies One powerful method for getting at purpose is we’ve encountered in any industry.the five whys. Start with the descriptive statement Notice that none of the core purposes fall intoWe make X products or We deliver X services, and the category “maximize shareholder wealth.” A pri-then ask, Why is that important? five times. After mary role of core purpose is to guide and inspire.a few whys, you’ll find that you’regetting down to the fundamentalpurpose of the organization. We used this method to deepen Listen to people in truly greatand enrich a discussion about pur-pose when we worked with a certain companies talk about theirmarket-research company. The exec-utive team first met for several hours achievements–you will hearand generated the following state-ment of purpose for their organiza- little about earnings per share.tion: To provide the best market-research data available. We then asked the follow- Maximizing shareholder wealth does not inspire peo-ing question: Why is it important to provide the ple at all levels of an organization, and it providesbest market-research data available? After some precious little guidance. Maximizing shareholderdiscussion, the executives answered in a way that wealth is the standard off-the-shelf purpose forreflected a deeper sense of their organization’s pur- those organizations that have not yet identifiedpose: To provide the best market-research data their true core purpose. It is a substitute – and aavailable so that our customers will understand weak one at that.their markets better than they could otherwise. When people in great organizations talk aboutA further discussion let team members realize that their achievements, they say very little about earn-their sense of self-worth came not just from helping ings per share. Motorola people talk about impres-customers understand their markets better but also sive quality improvements and the effect of thefrom making a contribution to their customers’ products they create on the world. Hewlett-Packardsuccess. This introspection eventually led the com- people talk about their technical contributions topany to identify its purpose as: To contribute to our the marketplace. Nordstrom people talk aboutcustomers’ success by helping them understand heroic customer service and remarkable individualtheir markets. With this purpose in mind, the com- performance by star salespeople. When a Boeing en-pany now frames its product decisions not with the gineer talks about launching an exciting and revo-question Will it sell? but with the question Will it lutionary new aircraft, she does not say, “I put mymake a contribution to our customers’ success? heart and soul into this project because it would The five whys can help companies in any indus- add 37 cents to our earnings per share.”try frame their work in a more meaningful way. An One way to get at the purpose that lies beyondasphalt and gravel company might begin by saying, merely maximizing shareholder wealth is to playWe make gravel and asphalt products. After a few the “Random Corporate Serial Killer” game. Itwhys, it could conclude that making asphalt and works like this: Suppose you could sell the com-gravel is important because the quality of the infra- pany to someone who would pay a price that every-structure plays a vital role in people’s safety and ex- one inside and outside the company agrees is moreperience; because driving on a pitted road is annoy- than fair (even with a very generous set of assump-ing and dangerous; because 747s cannot land safely tions about the expected future cash flows of theon runways built with poor workmanship or inferi- company). Suppose further that this buyer wouldor concrete; because buildings with substandard guarantee stable employment for all employees atmaterials weaken with time and crumble in earth- the same pay scale after the purchase but with noquakes. From such introspection may emerge this guarantee that those jobs would be in the same in-purpose: To make people’s lives better by improv- dustry. Finally, suppose the buyer plans to kill theing the quality of man-made structures. With a company after the purchase – its products or ser-sense of purpose very much along those lines, Gran- vices would be discontinued, its operations would70 HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW September-October 1996
  9. 9. be shut down, its brand names would be shelved all know that isn’t a core value around here!”) Aspi-forever, and so on. The company would utterly and rations are more appropriate as part of your envi-completely cease to exist. Would you accept the sioned future or as part of your strategy, not as partoffer? Why or why not? What would be lost if the of the core ideology. However, authentic core val-company ceased to exist? Why is it important that ues that have weakened over time can be consid-the company continue to exist? We’ve found this ered a legitimate part of the core ideology – as longexercise to be very powerful for helping hard-nosed, as you acknowledge to the organization that youfinancially focused executives reflect on their orga- must work hard to revive them.nization’s deeper reasons for being. Also be clear that the role of core ideology is to Another approach is to ask each member of the guide and inspire, not to differentiate. Two compa-Mars Group, How could we frame the purpose of nies can have the same core values or purpose.this organization so that if you woke up tomorrow Many companies could have the purpose to makemorning with enough money in the bank to retire, technical contributions, but few live it as passion-you would nevertheless keep working here? What ately as Hewlett-Packard. Many companies coulddeeper sense of purpose would motivate you to con- have the purpose to preserve and improve humantinue to dedicate your precious creative energies to life, but few hold it as deeply as Merck. Many com-this company’s efforts? panies could have the core value of heroic customer As they move into the twenty-first century, com- service, but few create as intense a culture aroundpanies will need to draw on the full creative energy that value as Nordstrom. Many companies couldand talent of their people. But why should people have the core value of innovation, but few creategive full measure? As Peter Drucker has pointed the powerful alignment mechanisms that stimu-out, the best and most dedicated people are ulti- late the innovation we see at 3M. The authenticity,mately volunteers, for they have the opportunity to the discipline, and the consistency with which thedo something else with their lives. Confronted ideology is lived – not the content of the ideology –with an increasingly mobile society, cynicism differentiate visionary companies from the rest ofabout corporate life, and an expanding entrepre- the pack.neurial segment of the economy, companies more Core ideology needs to be meaningful and inspi-than ever need to have a clear understanding of rational only to people inside the organization; ittheir purpose in order to make work meaningful need not be exciting to outsiders. Why not? Becauseand thereby attract, motivate, and retain outstand- it is the people inside the organization who need toing people. commit to the organizational ideology over the long term. Core ideology can also play a role in de-Discovering Core Ideology termining who is inside and who is not. A clear and well-articulated ideology attracts to the company You do not create or set core ideology. You dis- people whose personal values are compatible withcover core ideology. You do not deduce it by looking the company’s core values; conversely, it repelsat the external environment. You understand it by those whose personal values are incompatible. Youlooking inside. Ideology has to be authentic. You cannot impose new core values or purpose on peo-cannot fake it. Discovering core ideology is not an ple. Nor are core values and purpose things peopleintellectual exercise. Do not ask, What core values can buy into. Executives often ask, How do we get people to share our core ideology? You don’t. You can’t. Instead, findYou discover core ideology by people who are predisposed to share your core values and purpose; attractlooking inside. It has to be and retain those people; and let those who do not share your core values goauthentic. You can’t fake it. elsewhere. Indeed, the very process of articulating core ideology may cause some people to leave whenshould we hold? Ask instead, What core values do they realize that they are not personally compatiblewe truly and passionately hold? You should not with the organization’s core. Welcome that out-confuse values that you think the organization come. It is certainly desirable to retain within theought to have – but does not – with authentic core core ideology a diversity of people and viewpoints.values. To do so would create cynicism throughout People who share the same core values and purposethe organization. (“Who’re they trying to kid? We do not necessarily all think or look the same.HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW September-October 1996 71
  10. 10. VISION Don’t confuse core ideology itself with core- Identifying core values and purpose is thereforeideology statements. A company can have a very not an exercise in wordsmithery. Indeed, an organi-strong core ideology without a formal statement. zation will generate a variety of statements overFor example, Nike has not (to our knowledge) for- time to describe the core ideology. In Hewlett-mally articulated a statement of its core purpose. Packard‘s archives, we found more than half aYet, according to our observations, Nike has a pow- dozen distinct versions of the HP Way, drafted byerful core purpose that permeates the entire organi- David Packard between 1956 and 1972. All versionszation: to experience the emotion of competition, stated the same principles, but the words used var-winning, and crushing competitors. Nike has a ied depending on the era and the circumstances.campus that seems more like a shrine to the com- Similarly, Sony’s core ideology has been statedpetitive spirit than a corporate office complex. many different ways over the company’s history.Giant photos of Nike heroes cover the walls, bronze At its founding, Masaru Ibuka described two keyplaques of Nike athletes hang along the Nike Walk elements of Sony’s ideology: “We shall welcomeof Fame, statues of Nike athletes stand alongside technical difficulties and focus on highly sophisti-the running track that rings the campus, and build- cated technical products that have great usefulnessings honor champions such as Olympic marathoner for society regardless of the quantity involved; weJoan Benoit, basketball superstar Michael Jordan, shall place our main emphasis on ability, perfor-and tennis pro John McEnroe. Nike people who do mance, and personal character so that each individ-not feel stimulated by the competitive spirit and ual can show the best in ability and skill.”2 Fourthe urge to be ferocious simply do not last long in decades later, this same concept appeared in a state-the culture. Even the company’s name reflects a ment of core ideology called Sony Pioneer Spirit:sense of competition: Nike is the Greek goddess of “Sony is a pioneer and never intends to follow oth-victory. Thus, although Nike has not formally ar- ers. Through progress, Sony wants to serve theticulated its purpose, it clearly has a strong one. whole world. It shall be always a seeker of the un- Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals Aid Long-Term Vision Target BHAGs can be quantitative or qualitative Role-model BHAGs suit up-and-coming organizations Become a $125 billion company by the year 2000 (Wal-Mart, 1990) Become the Nike of the cycling industry Democratize the automobile (Ford Motor (Giro Sport Design, 1986) Company, early 1900s) Become as respected in 20 years as Become the company most known for changing Hewlett-Packard is today (Watkins-Johnson, 1996) the worldwide poor-quality image of Japanese Become the Harvard of the West products (Sony, early 1950s) (Stanford University, 1940s) Become the most powerful, the most serviceable, the most far-reaching world financial institution that has ever been (City Bank, predecessor to Internal-transformation BHAGs suit large, Citicorp, 1915) established organizations Become the dominant player in commercial aircraft and bring the world into the jet age Become number one or number two in every (Boeing, 1950) market we serve and revolutionize this company to have the strengths of a big company combined with the leanness and agility of a small company Common-enemy BHAGs involve (General Electric Company, 1980s) David-versus-Goliath thinking Transform this company from a defense contractor into the best diversified high-technology company Knock off RJR as the number one tobacco in the world (Rockwell, 1995) company in the world (Philip Morris, 1950s) Transform this division from a poorly respected Crush Adidas (Nike, 1960s) internal products supplier to one of the most Yamaha wo tsubusu! We will destroy Yamaha! respected, exciting, and sought-after divisions in (Honda, 1970s) the company (Components Support Division of a computer products company, 1989)72 HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW September-October 1996
  11. 11. known.… Sony has a principle of respecting and en- somewhat paradoxical. On the one hand, it conveyscouraging one’s ability… and always tries to bring concreteness – something visible, vivid, and real.out the best in a person. This is the vital force of On the other hand, it involves a time yet unreal-Sony.”3 Same core values, different words. ized – with its dreams, hopes, and aspirations. You should therefore focus on getting the content Vision-level BHAG. We found in our researchright – on capturing the essence of the core values that visionary companies often use bold missions –and purpose. The point is not to create a perfect or what we prefer to call BHAGs (pronouncedstatement but to gain a deep under-standing of your organization’s corevalues and purpose, which can thenbe expressed in a multitude of ways. Companies need an audaciousIn fact, we often suggest that oncethe core has been identified, man- 10-to-30-year goal to progressagers should generate their ownstatements of the core values and toward an envisioned future.purpose to share with their groups. Finally, don’t confuse core ideology with the con- BEE-hags and shorthand for Big, Hairy, Audaciouscept of core competence. Core competence is a stra- Goals)–as a powerful way to stimulate progress. Alltegic concept that defines your organization’s capa- companies have goals. But there is a difference be-bilities – what you are particularly good at – whereas tween merely having a goal and becoming commit-core ideology captures what you stand for and ted to a huge, daunting challenge – such as climbingwhy you exist. Core competencies should be well Mount Everest. A true BHAG is clear and com-aligned with a company’s core ideology and are of- pelling, serves as a unifying focal point of effort,ten rooted in it; but they are not the same thing. For and acts as a catalyst for team spirit. It has a clearexample, Sony has a core competence of miniatur- finish line, so the organization can know when itization – a strength that can be strategically applied has achieved the goal; people like to shoot for finishto a wide array of products and markets. But it does lines. A BHAG engages people – it reaches out andnot have a core ideology of miniaturization. Sony grabs them. It is tangible, energizing, highly fo-might not even have miniaturization as part of its cused. People get it right away; it takes little or nostrategy in 100 years, but to remain a great compa- explanation. For example, NASA’s 1960s moonny, it will still have the same core values described mission didn’t need a committee of wordsmiths toin the Sony Pioneer Spirit and the same fundamen- spend endless hours turning the goal into a verbose,tal reason for being–namely, to advance technology impossible-to-remember mission statement. Thefor the benefit of the general public. In a visionary goal itself was so easy to grasp – so compelling in itscompany like Sony, core competencies change over own right – that it could be said 100 different waysthe decades, whereas core ideology does not. yet be easily understood by everyone. Most corpo- Once you are clear about the core ideology, you rate statements we’ve seen do little to spur forwardshould feel free to change absolutely anything that movement because they do not contain the power-is not part of it. From then on, whenever someone ful mechanism of a BHAG.says something should not change because “it’s Although organizations may have many BHAGspart of our culture” or “we’ve always done it that at different levels operating at the same time, vi-way” or any such excuse, mention this simple rule: sion requires a special type of BHAG – a vision-levelIf it’s not core, it’s up for change. The strong version BHAG that applies to the entire organization andof the rule is, If it’s not core, change it! Articulating requires 10 to 30 years of effort to complete. Settingcore ideology is just a starting point, however. You the BHAG that far into the future requires thinkingalso must determine what type of progress you beyond the current capabilities of the organizationwant to stimulate. and the current environment. Indeed, inventing such a goal forces an executive team to be vision-Envisioned Future ary, rather than just strategic or tactical. A BHAG should not be a sure bet – it will have perhaps only The second primary component of the vision a 50% to 70% probability of success – but the orga-framework is envisioned future. It consists of two nization must believe that it can reach the goal any-parts: a 10-to-30-year audacious goal plus vivid de- way. A BHAG should require extraordinary effortscriptions of what it will be like to achieve the goal. and perhaps a little luck. We have helped compa-We recognize that the phrase envisioned future is nies create a vision-level BHAG by advising themHARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW September-October 1996 73
  12. 12. VISIONto think in terms of four broad categories: target In the 1930s, Merck had the BHAG to transformBHAGs, common-enemy BHAGs, role-model itself from a chemical manufacturer into one of theBHAGs, and internal-transformation BHAGs. (See preeminent drug-making companies in the world,the insert “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals Aid Long- with a research capability to rival any major univer-Term Vision.”) sity. In describing this envisioned future, George Vivid Description. In addition to vision-level Merck said at the opening of Merck’s research facil-BHAGs, an envisioned future needs what we call ity in 1933, “We believe that research work carriedvivid description – that is, a vibrant, engaging, on with patience and persistence will bring to in-and specific description of what it will be like to dustry and commerce new life; and we have faithachieve the BHAG. Think of it as translating the vi- that in this new laboratory, with the tools we havesion from words into pictures, of creating an image supplied, science will be advanced, knowledge in-that people can carry around in their heads. It is a creased, and human life win ever a greater freedomquestion of painting a picture with your words. Pic- from suffering and disease.… We pledge our everyture painting is essential for making the 10-to-30- aid that this enterprise shall merit the faith we haveyear BHAG tangible in people’s minds. in it. Let your light so shine – that those who seek For example, Henry Ford brought to life the goal the Truth, that those who toil that this world mayof democratizing the automobile with this vivid de- be a better place to live in, that those who hold aloftscription: “I will build a motor car for the great that torch of science and knowledge through thesemultitude.… It will be so low in price that no man social and economic dark ages, shall take new cour-making a good salary will be unable to own one age and feel their hands supported.”and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of Passion, emotion, and conviction are essentialpleasure in God’s great open spaces.… When I’m parts of the vivid description. Some managers arethrough, everybody will be able to afford one, and uncomfortable expressing emotion about theireveryone will have one. The horse will have disap- dreams, but that’s what motivates others. Churchillpeared from our highways, the automobile will be understood that when he described the BHAG fac-taken for granted…[and we will] give a large num- ing Great Britain in 1940. He did not just say, “Beatber of men employment at good wages.” Hitler.” He said, “Hitler knows he will have to The components-support division of a computer- break us on this island or lose the war. If we canproducts company had a general manager who was stand up to him, all Europe may be free, and the lifeable to describe vividly the goal of becoming one of of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, the whole world, including the United States,You must translate the vision including all we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss offrom words to pictures with a a new Dark Age, made more sinister and perhaps more protracted by thevivid description of what it will lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to ourbe like to achieve your goal. duties and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Common- wealth last for a thousand years, menthe most sought-after divisions in the company: will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”“We will be respected and admired by our peers.… A Few Key Points. Don’t confuse core ideologyOur solutions will be actively sought by the end- and envisioned future. In particular, don’t confuseproduct divisions, who will achieve significant core purpose and BHAGs. Managers often exchangeproduct ‘hits’ in the marketplace largely because of one for the other, mixing the two together or failingour technical contribution.… We will have pride in to articulate both as distinct items. Core purpose –ourselves.… The best up-and-coming people in the not some specific goal – is the reason why the orga-company will seek to work in our division.… Peo- nization exists. A BHAG is a clearly articulatedple will give unsolicited feedback that they love goal. Core purpose can never be completed, where-what they are doing.… [Our own] people will walk as the BHAG is reachable in 10 to 30 years. Thinkon the balls of their feet.… [They] will willingly of the core purpose as the star on the horizon towork hard because they want to.… Both employees be chased forever; the BHAG is the mountain to beand customers will feel that our division has con- climbed. Once you have reached its summit, youtributed to their life in a positive way.” move on to other mountains.74 HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW September-October 1996
  13. 13. Identifying core ideology is a discovery process, envisioned future should be so exciting in its ownbut setting the envisioned future is a creative right that it would continue to keep the organiza-process. We find that executives often have a great tion motivated even if the leaders who set the goaldeal of difficulty coming up with an exciting disappeared. City Bank, the predecessor of Citicorp,BHAG. They want to analyze their way into the fu- had the BHAG “to become the most powerful, theture. We have found, therefore, that some execu- most serviceable, the most far-reaching world fi-tives make more progress by starting first with the nancial institution that has ever been” – a goal thatvivid description and backing from there into the generated excitement through multiple genera- tions until it was achieved. Similar- ly, the NASA moon mission contin-What’s needed is such a big ued to galvanize people even though President John F. Kennedy (the leadercommitment that when people associated with setting the goal) died years before its completion.see what the goal will take, To create an effective envisioned future requires a certain level of un-there’s an almost audible gulp. reasonable confidence and commit- ment. Keep in mind that a BHAG is not just a goal; it is a Big, Hairy, Au-BHAG. This approach involves starting with ques- dacious Goal. It’s not reasonable for a small region-tions such as, We’re sitting here in 20 years; what al bank to set the goal of becoming “the most pow-would we love to see? What should this company erful, the most serviceable, the most far-reachinglook like? What should it feel like to employees? world financial institution that has ever been,” asWhat should it have achieved? If someone writes an City Bank did in 1915. It’s not a tepid claim thatarticle for a major business magazine about this “we will democratize the automobile,” as Henrycompany in 20 years, what will it say? One biotech- Ford said. It was almost laughable for Philipnology company we worked with had trouble envi- Morris – as the sixth-place player with 9% marketsioning its future. Said one member of the execu- share in the 1950s – to take on the goal of defeatingtive team, “Every time we come up with something Goliath RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company and becom-for the entire company, it is just too generic to be ing number one. It was hardly modest for Sony, asexciting – something banal like ‘advance biotech- a small, cash-strapped venture, to proclaim the goalnology worldwide.’” Asked to paint a picture of the of changing the poor-quality image of Japanesecompany in 20 years, the executives mentioned products around the world. (See the insert “Puttingsuch things as “on the cover of Business Week as a It All Together: Sony in the 1950s.”) Of course, it’smodel success story…the Fortune most admired not only the audacity of the goal but also the leveltop-ten list…the best science and business gradu- of commitment to the goal that counts. Boeingates want to work here…people on airplanes rave didn’t just envision a future dominated by its com-about one of our products to seatmates…20 consec- mercial jets; it bet the company on the 707 and, later,utive years of profitable growth…an entrepreneuri- on the 747. Nike’s people didn’t just talk aboutal culture that has spawned half a dozen new divi- the idea of crushing Adidas; they went on a crusadesions from within…management gurus use us as an to fulfill the dream. Indeed, the envisioned futureexample of excellent management and progressive should produce a bit of the “gulp factor”: when itthinking,” and so on. From this, they were able to dawns on people what it will take to achieve theset the goal of becoming as well respected as Merck goal, there should be an almost audible gulp.or as Johnson & Johnson in biotechnology. But what about failure to realize the envisioned It makes no sense to analyze whether an envi- future? In our research, we found that the visionarysioned future is the right one. With a creation – and companies displayed a remarkable ability to achievethe task is creation of a future, not prediction–there even their most audacious goals. Ford did democ-can be no right answer. Did Beethoven create the ratize the automobile; Citicorp did become theright Ninth Symphony? Did Shakespeare create the most far-reaching bank in the world; Philip Morrisright Hamlet? We can’t answer these questions; did rise from sixth to first and beat RJ Reynoldsthey’re nonsense. The envisioned future involves worldwide; Boeing did become the dominant com-such essential questions as Does it get our juices mercial aircraft company; and it looks like Wal-flowing? Do we find it stimulating? Does it spur Mart will achieve its $125 billion goal, even with-forward momentum? Does it get people going? The out Sam Walton. In contrast, the comparison com-HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW September-October 1996 75
  14. 14. Putting It All Together: Sony in the 1950s Core Ideology Envisioned Future Core Values BHAG Elevation of the Japanese culture and Become the company most known for changing the national status worldwide poor-quality image of Japanese products Being a pioneer – not following others; doing the impossible Vivid Description Encouraging individual ability and creativity We will create products that become pervasive around the world.… We will be the first Japanese Purpose company to go into the U.S. market and distribute To experience the sheer joy of innovation and the directly.… We will succeed with innovations that application of technology for the benefit and pleasure U.S. companies have failed at – such as the transistor of the general public radio.… Fifty years from now, our brand name will be as well known as any in the world…and will signify innovation and quality that rival the most innovative companies anywhere.… “Made in Japan” will mean something fine, not something shoddy.panies in our research frequently did not achieve achieved one BHAG and fails to replace it with an-their BHAGs, if they set them at all. The differ- other. NASA suffered from that syndrome after theence does not lie in setting easier goals: the vision- successful moon landings. After you’ve landed onary companies tended to have even more audacious the moon, what do you do for an encore? Ford suf-ambitions. The difference does not lie in charis- fered from the syndrome when, after it succeeded inmatic, visionary leadership: the visionary com- democratizing the automobile, it failed to set a newpanies often achieved their BHAGs without such goal of equal significance and gave General Motorslarger-than-life leaders at the helm. Nor does the the opportunity to jump ahead in the 1930s. Appledifference lie in better strategy: the visionary com- Computer suffered from the syndrome after achiev-panies often realized their goals more by an or- ing the goal of creating a computer that nontechiesganic process of “let’s try a lot of stuff and keep could use. Start-up companies frequently sufferwhat works” than by well-laid strategic plans. from the We’ve Arrived Syndrome after going pub-Rather, their success lies in building the strength of lic or after reaching a stage in which survival notheir organization as their primary way of creating longer seems in question. An envisioned futurethe future. helps an organization only as long as it hasn’t yet Why did Merck become the preeminent drug- been achieved. In our work with companies, we fre-maker in the world? Because Merck’s architects quently hear executives say, “It’s just not as excit-built the best pharmaceutical re-search and development organiza-tion in the world. Why did Boeingbecome the dominant commercial The basic dynamic of visionaryaircraft company in the world? Be-cause of its superb engineering and companies is to preserve themarketing organization, which hadthe ability to make projects like the core and stimulate progress. It is747 a reality. When asked to namethe most important decisions that vision that provides the context.have contributed to the growth andsuccess of Hewlett-Packard, David Packard an- ing around here as it used to be; we seem to haveswered entirely in terms of decisions to build the lost our momentum.” Usually, that kind of remarkstrength of the organization and its people. signals that the organization has climbed one Finally, in thinking about the envisioned future, mountain and not yet picked a new one to climb.beware of the We’ve Arrived Syndrome – a compla- Many executives thrash about with missioncent lethargy that arises once an organization has statements and vision statements. Unfortunately,76 HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW September-October 1996
  15. 15. VISIONmost of those statements turn out to be a muddled drop in from outer space and infer your vision fromstew of values, goals, purposes, philosophies, be- the operations and activities of the company with-liefs, aspirations, norms, strategies, practices, and out ever reading it on paper or meeting a single se-descriptions. They are usually a boring, confusing, nior executive.structurally unsound stream of words that evoke Creating alignment may be your most importantthe response “True, but who cares?” Even more work. But the first step will always be to recast yourproblematic, seldom do these statements have a vision or mission into an effective context fordirect link to the fundamental dynamic of vision- building a visionary company. If you do it right, youary companies: preserve the core and stimulate shouldn’t have to do it again for at least a decade.progress. That dynamic, not vision or mission 1. David Packard, speech given to Hewlett-Packard’s training group onstatements, is the primary engine of enduring com- March 8, 1960; courtesy of Hewlett-Packard Archives.panies. Vision simply provides the context for 2. See Nick Lyons, The Sony Vision (New York: Crown Publishers, 1976). We also used a translation by our Japanese student Tsuneto Ikeda.bringing this dynamic to life. Building a visionary 3. Akio Morita, Made in Japan (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1986), p. requires 1% vision and 99% alignment.When you have superb alignment, a visitor could Reprint 96501 To place an order, call 1-800-545-7685.HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW September-October 1996 77
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