Why Your Company Needs an Encompassing Vision and How to Find It
“Steve Jobs didn’t walk into Apple one day and go we’re gonna make a *bleeping* slick phone with a touch screen and it’s going to change the world. I’m pretty sure he was like phones kind of suck guys, what can we do about it?”
- Sam Witherspoon, Founder and CEO of IMRSV Data Lab
In the fifth episode of our podcast, Unicorn Leaders, our guest, Sam Witherspoon, explained how companies and managers can improve overall team performance and their company culture by solidifying the company's vision.
He also helped us understand why you need to put time and energy into ensuring every employee is on the same page as far as the company mission is concerned.
Leadership is all about creating that compelling vision. It's about enticing people. It's about exciting people. It requires us to influence people in a specific direction while management helps put the pieces in place to get us there.
Having an all-encompassing vision, something that's exciting, persuades people to be excited about work and committed to reaching goals. This is what helps us create our high performing organizations. Vision is one of the last pieces of the high-performing teams model that we teach here at Unicorn labs, but it's one of those pieces that show up in every part of a high-performing team.
We need psychological safety and empowerment as foundational pieces as leaders, cornerstones that build the team. People stick with the team because of the relationships they develop. After all, they feel empowered because they can communicate with each other and have productive conflict.
Their leaders care about their development and help coach them along the way. This effort culminates into individual contributors that have the confidence to proactively lead in their own teams. That’s a culture of leadership. The team works like a well oiled-machine because they’ve uncovered their sense of purpose and there's an all encompassing vision that pulls them towards it.
Table of Contents:
7 Elements of an All-Encompassing Vision
There are seven elements of an all-encompassing vision. You can take each element back to your team, back to your company. If you're thinking, what sort of vision do I or my company have, start by looking at your vision for your product, your marketing campaigns, and what you’re creating in general.
When we piece all seven elements together, we can create a strong vision that lasts the entirety of your existence.
1. Core Purpose
This is the core reason for existing; the core mission. This is why we do what we do.
To understand our core purpose. Sometimes we need to just ask the question: what do we do? Start with, we do X for Y people.
Fill that statement in and then ask yourself, why do you do X for Y people? You can ask yourself this a few times. You might end up with something unclear like, we help people. This answer is too broad.
When you determine a reason that’s more meaningful than simply what you do, that's the core purpose. These are the guiding principles that dictate what you stand for in the good times and bad.
2. Core Values
How you do what you do. If one of these values made you lose money on a transaction or made you make a business decision that doesn’t financially benefit your company, you would stick by it because that's how important the core value is.
Core values aren’t convenient or something we only align with when business is going well; core values are things we stick to, no matter how business is going. They're what we believe in and fight for.
This is the position or the status your company aspires to achieve within a reasonable timeframe. Vision is something we can achieve in five years and three years, in 10 years, and 15 years. Vision is somewhere we can be. So what is the vision? Where are we going? What is it going to look like when we get there?
The targets we set out for the company are part of reaching the vision. Set targets for specific metrics to assess your progress towards your vision and give yourself measures to get there.
5. Strategic and Operational Priorities
These are the actions you take (or more importantly, those you don't take) in pursuit of your vision. This is what you say no or yes to as you're trying to pursue your vision. Your strategic priorities should be revisited almost every six months. Your targets could be reviewed every year but your vision will likely withstand longer, and your purpose and values (if correct for your company) could last the entire company lifetime.
6. Brand Promise
What promises are you making for your stakeholders as you engage your strategies and your vision, what are these promises that you're going to make? This is for all stakeholders, your employees, your board members, your customers, and everyone else that touches your brand.
7. Leaders' Behaviors
How leaders act on a daily basis. This is the expectation we have of all leaders in our company.
When we put these seven pieces together, we call this the all encompassing vision.
During our interview we had the opportunity to ask Sam questions about his own leadership development journey and how he’s become a better leader. Listen to the full interview here.
What’s a champagne problem?
Sam: Champagne problems are a sort of running joke in our company. They’re the problems of tomorrow, like when you've got more revenue, when you've got more people, when you've got all of your other problems solved, it becomes a champagne problem because there's no more worries. You're cracking champagne. You're sipping champagne and all your worries are gone.
Here’s the thing, the problems never go away, they don’t become less severe. It’s just nature that changes. It’s a perpetual thing regardless of how successful the company might appear on the outside. There are always internal problems.
Why do you believe having a mission purpose, a vision is important for the team?
Sam: We went a long time without any real purpose or vision. It caused a lot of harm and stress. For a while our purpose was making money. What we quickly learned was money doesn't solve all your problems. It doesn't make you happy. I think that's reflected in one of the core values we've established as an organization: don't be mercenary. Don't chase money for the sake of making money. There's bigger problems in the world than lining your checkbook.
How did not having a vision cause harm and stress in your company?
Sam: So we started off in the legal industry as a consumer facing app, selling divorces online. We did a really good job. We had a lot of customers. The law society investigated us, me particularly, for a couple years. All the way through none of us cared about the problem. We literally picked it cuz we were like, there's a huge gap in the market. I was embarrassed to tell my family what I did at one point. Like I wasn't running porn hub. I'm not in an ugly industry.
The realization we eventually came to was that none of us cared. We were pursuing an opportunity for the sake of money, and it caused emotional distress. I wasn't proud of what I was doing. I don't wanna speak on anyone else's behalf, but the same is true for my co-founder Bennett. He was not proud of what we were doing at all. We were there because we felt there was an opportunity and we walked away from it as a result.
You felt your company’s vision didn't connect to your values, and this caused you as the CEO to have emotional distress. I can only imagine the emotional distress on your team. What was that like?
Sam: I think a lot of people would've characterized their relationship with the company as transactional at the time. I don't really fault any of them for it. My relationship with the industry was transactional. So how can I expect anything different from the people around me? I think that on its own was probably a strong indicator we weren't in the right spot.
Can you explain the difference between how a phenomenal leader can shape us versus how an emotionally distressed unintelligent leader can shape us based on your own experiences?
Sam: Yes. Justice Hughes was the first sort of leader or mentor I had who gave me trust and space to sort stuff out on my own while still holding me accountable from a distance. He didn't tell me how to do my work. He told me what he wanted the output to be. There were so many sort of hilarious moments. He was pretty old school and still is pretty old school. I had to wear a suit and tie to work every day. One day I ran up to his office to ask him a question and I forgot my blazer in the cubicles I was working in.
He didn't even look up from his desk. He was writing with his fountain pen and just pointed at the door and said, come back when you're dressed. It wasn't condescending. It was just like, come back when you're dressed. There were so many good moments. I've never seen someone who just understood how to interact with society at large in a complex way.
What was a leadership insight you took on as a sponge watching him?
Sam: We had this case; it was this old pensioner. He’s like 90 years old. He’s on a Canadian pension plan that’s deficient if you're retired and reliant entirely on it. He got divorced at around 90 years old. I'm not passing judgment on this guy's decisions, but it's pretty late in the game to look for an upgrade or whatever his plan was. Now the pension is divided evenly between him and his spouse, so he's living on half the amount. A year later, his ex-wife dies, and he wants his pension back. The Canadian government says you don't get your pension back. That's a rule. Hmm. Okay. It's the law.
Justice Hughes wanted to do the right thing and get this guy's pension back. He's living well below the poverty line already. So how do we get this man his pension back? We can't do it. The only argument we have is we are the last court of equity in Canada. Being a court of equity means you can make a decision that violates the written law provided you feel it’s an equitable decision. I'm paraphrasing a bit and I'm a bad lawyer. Anyway, he was like we're not going to do that. I threw out my hands and was like, listen, I don't know if there's anything I can do.
The day of the hearing comes, and he tells me, go sit at the back and watch the parties and tell me what happens after I leave. He storms into the room and everyone stands up. He stands up when the judge comes into the room, slams his hand on the desk, looks straight down the middle of the room and says, if I have to come back here in 10 minutes and make a decision, you're not gonna like the decision I make. He storms back out, slams the door and I sit there watching. You can see the department of justice lawyer is like, oh *bleep*. I'm gonna lose the Canada pension plan. I’m dead meat.
The guy's self-represented and has no money. They scurry over, and they're talking. So I sneak out the back door and Justice Hughes is like, are they talking? And I was like, oh, they're talking and I see what's going on now. I go back in, he comes back in a couple of minutes later, they stand up. He goes, have we settled the matter? And the DOJ goes, we've settled the matter. And he's like, great and walks out. Never has to make a decision. He just played the perfect line. No other play was left to get this man's money back, and Justice Hughes nailed it. It was leadership. It was not making a decision to make a decision.
So you went into the online divorce business for the money, but when you realized the values didn’t work for you, you didn't shut down that business. You just redid it. What was the impact on your team?
Sam: We were probably six people when we made that decision, and um, Bennett (CFO) and I spent a lot of time asking ourselves what do we actually care about here? What is this for? What do we care about? What parts keep us coming to the office every day? One of the parts was getting to work on technology. The hard part was where do we want to apply our skills and values? It took us some time to figure that out and we had to survive in the meantime to sort stuff out. We decided to work as consultants for a while.
We wanted to go after every opportunity that came to us, but we couldn't consult on our own. We needed our employees to stick around and be engaged and involved in those decisions. We built consensus, so we had lots of conversations about what everyone wants to do, what industries they want to work in and how they want to work. It became clear that no one had a defining product idea to start with.
The premise we set off in this new direction was we’ll use consulting to expose us to the world's problem sets, and when the time is right to pivot to product, we will make that pivot. That's a really shitty vision, but like I'm gonna call it a vision for a second because it gave Bennett a very clear mandate about what he needed to do financially to enable us and equip us so that when we found the new product, we had the dry powder to take time and not have to say no to new customers to go in a different direction. We spent a fair few years chugging along as professional service personnel.
Give me some insight into why you think the team stuck with you despite the mediocre vision.
Sam: That's a good question. I ask myself that a lot. I'm not entirely sure. I think part of it is we like each other; we like just hanging out and being around each other. I think that's a major piece. We often spend our free time together in some capacity. I think the other piece is we work well together despite scrapping like siblings at times, but who cares? We all like solving problems. I think that's it; that's the nugget. We like solving problems, and we solve them better together than when we're apart. I'm not going to say we're like the Beatles; that's so cheesy. We're more effective together than when we're apart, and I think we all know that deep down, so there's a benefit to sticking around.
Tell me about coming to that realization and how you feel the team has changed since those days.
Sam: So probably about two and a half years ago, we won a contract in the United States with the department of defence, a very potentially big contract for us. We won it due to some of our expertise in natural language processing and information management. This is right around the tail end of Donald Trump's presidency. It sort of forced us to confront what about Western democracy we like, or don't like. Not a lot of us were Donald Trump fans, but overall we're still fans of America. We still believed in liberal democracy and the promise that liberal democracy holds for society at large.
It's the worst form of government except for all the others and I think that we ended up realizing there's a mission and purpose there that we strongly agree with. I think that was this first glimmer of where we wanted to head. Around that time, we put together an advisory board focused on defence and public safety and had some conversations with people who we deeply respect in the area about some of the sort of shortcomings and where the opportunities may lie. We tried really hard for a year to make our way into the defence community in Canada. Ironically, we got a big contract in the United States long before we ever had anything in Canada.
We persisted nonetheless, and eventually found our way into the department of national defence, Canadian Armed Forces. It was the first time we were exposed to a mission and purpose that was bigger than just solving a problem for a company or an organization. It was the first time our work had a real external impact. It was literally saving people's lives. We got an opportunity to work during an operation on the operation itself. The work was far from glamorous. It wasn’t sexy typing behind a keyboard, matrix graphics, and all the rest. We weren't in an operations center. We didn't have a big map on this display. I'll be proud of our impact for the rest of my life. I think that really pushed us over the edge.
We had some other private sector customers at the same time. When it came time to decide do we triple down on defence or keep our options open, it wasn't even a debate. It was like, this matters to us, this is important to us. We want to be a part of that and support Canada; we want to support the United States. We want to support the UK. We want to support liberal democracy. We're watching it right now in Ukraine, I want to stand against that. I think that mission and purpose resonate with me. That clarified it for us almost in an instant; this is where we’re going to head. This is what we’re going to do. Luckily we had two products we'd been cooking based on our work for the DOD in the states. Hopefully, we can scale that across the Five Eyes in the coming years.
Do you find that clarity of vision, purpose, who you want to serve and what problems you want to deal with helped with recruiting, getting the right people in the doors, and building a good team?
Sam: It's definitely helped in some respects with recruiting because now we know exactly what to say. As we made this shift, we knew it wouldn't be for everyone.
Google had a mutiny when project Maven was revealed, and they withdrew from project Maven to preserve staff. For right or wrong, people have very polarized views on the defence industry, and I'm cool with that. That's part of a liberal democracy, ironically. You're, you're allowed to have those beliefs and think those things, and I fully support people's right to do so. I think it gave us the ability to own that and say this is us, take it or leave it. It hasn't been super easy all the time. Good engineers have quit because they don't like the defence industry, and that's okay. It took us a long time to be comfortable with that, but we're okay with that. Because they're doing what's right for them.
On the recruiting side, it's much easier now to say this is who we are. This is what we do. These are the things we build and, and the effects we enable. When we talk about stuff that way, it's a binary decision for people. It's, am I a part of that? Or am I not a part of that? There's not a middle ground; you don't get to live in the middle and be mercenary for too long when that's what you're confronted with.
What's been the internal reaction in the team in regards to the clarification of the vision?
Sam: I think a lot of people on the team are increasingly grateful for the clarity of purpose. I think it helps them describe what they do and who they work for in a much cleaner way than in the past. They can now talk about the purpose they're working towards, as opposed to the people they're working for, for which, you know, it is sort of an ugly thing to list off some customers or clients you have. It doesn't have the same impact. I think the other piece that's been really helpful is it's allowed everyone the space to figure out where they fit in this puzzle, where they can contribute and where they can have an impact. Before, it was like, you know, you're a person, and you are billable at this rate per hour to this group, and that's kind of shitty. It's not my favourite way to treat or quantify people's impact.
Now people can take ownership of a piece of this and say this is mine. I'm proud of this. Just today, I was watching some conversations happen around “I think we should drop this and use this piece because”, and those aren't conversations professional service firms have. There's no ownership and integrity in the decisions that you're making. Not that professional service firms make bad decisions. To some extent, you’re at the mercy of the customer, the timeline, the budget and the commitment you've made.
That's the reality of professional services. As we've slowly migrated off of that, we started getting rid of the clients that didn't line up with that purpose, handing them off to other professional service firms that we trusted wouldn't screw them up so that we still preserve the relationship and respect the people we'd worked with. I think it also helped get everyone else working with us in a clear direction on where we're headed.
It isn't enough to just state having a clear vision. You have to start cutting the fat around what doesn't fit in that vision. So we clarify our vision in our words and what we think. Now what doesn't fit into this vision, we cut away even really good paying customers that no longer fit into this model we're trying to create.
Can you take me on a bit of the organic journey of vision finding and forming? If we've got some listeners on the call who are like, well, I've got to figure out our vision. Can you share a few steps?
Sam: I'm not sure there's a cut-and-dry recipe, to be honest. I think one of the things that we had to resolve internally first was that purpose conversation, why do you want to be here? Why do you want to do this? Those questions and the impact they have are really important.
It took us a long time to even figure out we had to answer those questions. This was not something we started the company with. We weren’t like purpose; that's what we need here. We were like money, now that's what we need. Eventually, we realized money and purpose can often be at odds. I think there's lots of money to be made in selling weapons to the Russians, but you’ll never catch me going anywhere near that space, but I'm sure you could make a killing. Like, literally you'll get people killed. It's one of those things where we had to resolve what mattered to us, what was important to us.
I think that was step one until we sorted that out; pretty much everything else was kind of pointless. I guess the other side is like, we're still figuring it out. Who am I kidding? It's iterative.
I'll give you the other piece that I'm convinced of: Steve Jobs didn't walk into Apple one day and go, we're gonna make a fucking slick phone with a touch screen, and it's gonna change the world. I'm pretty sure he was like, phones kind of suck guys. What can we do about it? I just don't believe he was like, I’m going to make the iPhone.
I struggle to imagine a person who's capable of that. Maybe he did but there's sort of a mythology that's created around a lot of these companies. When you scrape away all the shit, it was a Blackberry too. It had big buttons, and that was V1, and he was like, not good enough guys. And then V 200 is the touch screen iPhone. I think the mythology of vision is always the polished turd. We're perpetually polishing that turd. We're never turning it into a diamond. I'm not crazy, but it's a little less shitty each time. Eventually, we get to a point where you hold it up, and you're like, yeah, I can go to a fancy restaurant with this and not feel too bad about myself.
Sometimes people are like we have to figure it out. Let's get a whiteboard, write it up, but really it's uncovered through discovery and conversations and putting yourself in hard places. Finding the line and when you cross it. It's being able to engage in those conversations with your entire team and then seeing it as iterative that your vision doesn't have to be a polished turd. I really like that. I think those two pieces are a home run takeaway for us, you know, constantly iterate it and uncover it versus trying to wordsmith it.
What’s the biggest mistake you've made in all the adventures you've shared with us?
Sam: The biggest mistake I've made repeatedly throughout my life is not listening to the voice inside or the instinct that I have sooner. When I was embarrassed to say we're selling divorces online, I'd say it in a sarcastic or jokey way because I was a little ashamed, and I needed to reflect on why that was. It's like you've got a girlfriend, and you don't want to tell any of your friends; you've got a girlfriend cause you're embarrassed about her in some way. You need to answer why you don't want anyone to know. I think like when I have those feelings, and I've historically run away from them over and over and over.
There are numerous times when I was put in situations. I would never want any of my current employees to experience where I was put when I was working as a consultant. Stuff was said that I can't even imagine saying to another person today. I should’ve walked away, but I was a bit of a coward. I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Eventually, I quit, but it took me a long time to sort that out.
I think the result was always that I knew I wasn't going to last in consulting, I knew that I wasn't going to be a good lawyer, but I avoided confronting that reality for a long time. I'm not mad that I went to law school. University of Calgary was wonderful. It prepared me for what I'm doing today. Make no mistake. I'm a better writer and critical thinker than I ever would've been if I hadn't had these experiences, but I also could have listened to my internal purpose sooner instead of beating my head against those walls.
Any last thoughts?
Sam: Here’s a hockey metaphor, because I think it's really cool to go to the hard place on the ice. I find the people who have succeeded with us over time have been the ones who are totally cool with type two fun, the stuff that's not fun when you're doing it, but it's fun after thinking about doing it. You’re proud you did it. My life has been about pursuing type two fun.
Johnson & Johnson’s Case Study
If you don’t have a mission or purpose that you truly believe in, you’ll be deeply unhappy, and your company won’t succeed.
The Credo is a document written in 1943 by Robert Wood Johnson. He was Johnson & Johnson’s former chairman, a member of its founding family.
This document said, "We believe our first responsibility is to doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products. In meeting their needs everything we do must be of high quality. We must consistently strive to reduce our cost in order to maintain reasonable prices. Customers' orders must be serviced promptly and accurately."
It goes on for four paragraphs describing the relationship with each group of stakeholders and how they're prioritized - first priority are the customers, second, the employees, third, the community as a whole and lastly, the company shareholders.
In terms of value statements and vision statements, this is a pretty solid one. It's clear. It's forthright. The Credo was prominently displayed at all of Johnson & Johnson businesses and carved into a granite wall at their New Jersey headquarters.
When a man named Mr. Burke became company president, he saw a problem with the Credo: it didn't seem to matter to their employees. It just felt like words for a lot of the employees.
It wasn't that there was an open revolt against the Credo, there were just these subtle cues and vibes that he picked up on when he travelled around the company from department to department and watched people work and interact.
Later in an interview, he said, "A lot of young people that were coming into Johnson & Johnson really didn't pay much attention to it. Many of them felt that it was kind of a public relations gimmick. And it wasn't actually a unifying document. It was just some marketing thing."
Burke's idea was to hold a meeting to determine what role the Credo had in the company's future. He proposed the idea to many Johnson & Johnson leaders, who rejected it outright. To them, it seemed like a waste of time.
Dick Sellars, a board chairman at the time, called the notion ridiculous. He told Burke that challenging the Credo would be like challenging the Pope as a Catholic. Burke didn't back down. He said, "I challenge the Pope every day when I wake up. And I think sometimes he's crazy. I think at times, my religion is nuts. Of course, I will challenge it. Everybody challenges their values, and that's what we ought to do with the Credo."
They ended up having the meeting; Burke prevailed with his leaders to challenge the Credo and create an environment where that was the case. Burke outlined the task. He said, "You guys are in a position of being able to challenge this document, which is the soul of the corporation. And if you can't live by its principles, then we ought to tear it off the walls because it's an act of pretension to just leave it there. And if you want to change it, tell us how it ought to be changed."
That night some people stayed up late putting thoughts on paper. By the end of the process, at least for that meeting and that year, they reached a consensus that they would recommit to the existing Credo.
The Tylenol Crisis
Seven years later from that first meeting, on September 30th, 1982, normal life came to a bit of a stop. Burke received a phone call that six people were dead in Chicago because they had ingested his company's product, Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules that had been laced with cyanide. This will later become known as a Tylenol crisis.
In Chicago, panic ensued. Police roamed the streets using bullhorns to warn people. Boy Scouts troops went door to door to alert elderly people who might have missed the warnings. The following day, a seventh victim was found, and worries continued to spread. Officials in San Francisco warned residents not to flush Tylenol down the toilet because they might risk contaminating the sewage system with poison.
One news service calculated that Tylenol poisonings generated the widest US news coverage since the assassination of President Kennedy. In a few hours, Johnson & Johnson went from the provider of medicine to a provider of poison. The atmosphere at the headquarters was a mix of shock and disbelief, and the company was not prepared to deal with this sort of crisis.
They didn’t know how many bottles of Tylenol had been messed with, how many had included cyanide, and how many more people would die because of their product. Everything was sprawled onto big paper and taped on the walls as the information came in from the victims, the locations, the lot numbers. All the urgent questions were written out. The only certainty from the outside looking in was that Tylenol was finished as a business and product.
Burke formed a seven-member committee that became part of the headquarters at the office. They worked on working through the cascade of tough decisions there. How should they work with law enforcement?
What should they tell the public? What should they do with other Tylenol products on the shelves around the nation that could have been tampered with? The team strategy guidance from Burke was first, how do we protect the people? And second, how do we save this product?
Four days after the poisonings, Burke and other members of the committee flew down to Washington, D.C., to discuss strategy with the FBI and the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration. They both strongly encouraged Burke to limit the recall to Chicago.
Since no poison had been located outside of Chicago, they said that a national recall of all your Tylenol products would unnecessarily frighten the public, embolden the poisoner, and encourage copycats. A larger recall would also cost Johnson & Johnson millions of dollars more.
Burke and his group thought about this for a while. The company's first action was to immediately alert consumers across the nation via media not to consume any type of Tylenol product. He told consumers not to resume using the product until the extent of the tampering could be determined.
Johnson & Johnson stopped the production and advertising of Tylenol; they redrew all Tylenol capsules from the stores in Chicago and the surrounding area. After finding two more contaminated bottles, Tylenol realized their product was vulnerable. They ignored the advice of the FBI and the FDA. They ordered an immediate national recall of every Tylenol product on the market.
There were 31 million pills, costing Johnson & Johnson $100 million. When Burke was asked for his reasoning behind the decision by news reporters, shareholders, board members, and everyone else questioning his decisions, his answer came pretty quickly.
He said, "We believe our first responsibility is to doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services." He quoted the Credo, the vision, and the value statements. Over the following days and weeks, Johnson & Johnson transformed itself from a pharmaceutical company to a public safety organization.
It designed and manufactured the innovative tamper-proof packaging that you see today. They provided that tamper-proof packaging to all other drug companies for free without doing any IP around it. They built relationships with governments, law enforcement and the media.
Four weeks after the attacks, they immobilized more than 2000 salespeople to visit doctors and pharmacists, listen to their concerns and inform them of the upcoming changes happening to their products.
Even though there was little chance of discovering more cyanide in Tylenol, Johnson & Johnson showed that they were unwilling to risk public safety.
Tylenol became the first product in the industry to use new tamper-resistant packaging after the crisis. Then something unexpected happened. Tylenol's market share (after dropping to zero after the attacks) began to slowly climb back to previous levels and continue to grow.
Today it's a household brand even after facing one of the most horrific incidents a company could face. James Burke said in the interviews following the Tylenol crisis, "We had to make hundreds of decisions on the fly, hundreds of people making thousands of decisions. And if you'd look back, we didn't really make any bad decisions. We really didn't."
"Those thousands of decisions all had a splendid consistency about them. And that was that the public would be served first because that's who was at stake. And so the reason people talk about Tylenol when the Credo discussions come up is that the Credo ran the Tylenol crisis strategy, because the hearts and minds of people who were at J&J and who were making the decisions in the whole series of companies they all knew what to do."
It wasn't a strategy, but it was a clear vision, a clear value statement and guidance on making decisions. On the surface, the story of the Tylenol crisis is about a large group of people responding to a disaster with extraordinary cohesion, focus and guidance. Beneath the story lies this curious fact, the key to Johnson & Johnson's extraordinary behaviour can be located in a mundane one-page document.
The Credo oriented thousands of people's thinking and behaviour as they navigated a complex landscape of choices during an emergency in a crisis.
Looking at the Present
Johnson & Johnson is facing a new crisis. They're dealing with the opioid crisis, which is perhaps the failure of abandoning the Credo that has most recently severely hurt Johnson & Johnson's trust and reputation with the public.
In 2021, according to The Guardian, a group of US state attorney generals unveiled a landmark 26 billion settlement with large drug companies for allegedly fueling the deadly nationwide opioid epidemic. Under the settlement proposal, three of the largest US drug distributors, McKesson Corp, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen are expected to pay a combined 21 billion while drug maker Johnson & Johnson, manufacturer of the opioids, has to pay 5 billion.
Fast forward 40 years from the Tylenol crisis and compare how they acted in that situation versus their lack of response to the opioid epidemic. Now we can look at this company and see what not to do.
Rather than help in how the opioid epidemic could be managed and death could be averted using their resources and innovations, Johnson & Johnson denied responsibility and failed to take any meaningful action. In both cases, the attention to collective results made the difference.
One last question: Why do you have a purpose for your work?
Do you have a vision for how the world will be a better place because of your company?
A vision that both entices the people that work with you, but that also emotionally compels them and emotionally compels you?
If we're only focused on chasing profits, we're missing out on the opportunity to make more profits. A successful company doesn’t boil down to choosing between purpose or profits. Companies grow when they recognize they need to do both.
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