When someone starts a business, they have a big idea—a dream if you will—that they’d like to realize. That idea, the dream, is usually called the mission. The founders also have a certain company in mind that they want to build, typically called the vision.
The vision is not always clear from the beginning, but it will certainly develop over time. The mission may also change over time: Wikipedia was to be written by experts only, Hotmail was originally a database company, and Twitter was a podcasting company.
Regardless of the mission and vision changing over time, these are the long-term goals that you need to get started. Based on the mission and vision, as well as the competitive landscape, a strategy can be designed.
At these early stages of a company, it’s crystal clear that goals come first. If it were the other way around, the people that you hire would define your strategy. In that case, your strategy doesn’t serve your mission and vision, but your people. That simply isn’t a winning formula—neither for commercial businesses nor for non-profit organizations. First you set goals, and then you figure out what resources (people but also capital) you need to accomplish those goals.
Putting goals first doesn’t mean that you care more about goals than your people. In fact, quite the contrary. Hiring people without being clear which goals they should contribute to, is likely to result in hiring the wrong people. This doesn’t help anyone—not the employee nor the company. I’ve made this mistake myself several times and it’s a bad one, especially for the person that you’ve hired (and then have to let go of).
It’s often said that your people are your most important asset. And I agree, provided that your people are the right people for your company and team goals. You shouldn’t hire people and then figure out what their goals should be, you set goals for your business and then figure out who you need to deliver those goals. You don’t become a doctor because you studied medicine, you study medicine because you want to become a doctor.
So start designing your future, for your company or for your team. What does it look like? And which people do you need to turn that desired future into reality?