brand, community, culture

Matt Asay on the Red Hat Mission


Matt Asay just posted about Red Hat’s new mission, which he discovered on a visit to our Westford office in one of our “bathroom briefings” (important aside: we post some internal company news right front and center in the bathroom… if you want people to read something, post it in the bathroom– not everyone reads mailing lists, but everyone pees! Remember, internal communications is a strategic role at Red Hat!).

It’s not a secret, so I don’t mind that he saw the mission or posted about it. In fact, we are pretty happy with the transparent process we employed to get it done. Those of you who have read some previous posts know how strongly I feel about having the entire company aligned on mission and vision and values– the core stuff.

But we actually made this a collaborative project within Red Hat. It wasn’t a democracy–not everyone had a vote– but everyone in the company was solicited for input and had a chance to weigh in. In fact, we gave people multiple chances, and ended up having a pretty active conversation inside the company about what Red Hat’s mission should be (another aside: we followed a similar process when we built the company values years ago).

The final mission that we ended up with?

To be the catalyst in communities of customers, contributors, and partners creating better technology the open source way.

I’ll explain more about what this means in a later post rather than ramble on about it now– every word is important. But one point Matt made in his post I want to clear up. This doesn’t actually replace our current vision statement:

To be the defining technology company of the 21st century; and through our actions strengthen the social fabric by continually democratizing content and technology.

In fact, it is additive– we now have both a vision and a mission.

What’s the difference?

Here’s the way I would define the difference, understanding of course that it’s all word soup, and different people will define these terms in different ways…don’t get too caught up in the semantics!

Vision: this is your guiding star that you use to navigate. It also shows the scale of what you want to accomplish. It’s supposed to be kinda inspiring, too!

In my mind, the “defining technology company” vision shows that we don’t have small dreams. We aim to change the world!

Over the years at Red Hat, I’ve had many people comment (like Matt Asay did) that when they saw this statement, they were inspired, but not sure what it meant they were supposed to do to help us get there…

This is why we added the mission. Here’s how I would define mission:

Mission: Once you know where you are going, the mission shows you how to get there. So if I am Christopher Columbus, and I am using the North Star to tell me which direction to go to get to the New World, I can use the mission to help me decide whether I should take a boat, or walk, or ride a horse.  Certain techniques (like walking and horses) would have never helped Chris C. get to the New World. Others (like using a boat and bringing plenty of oranges to avoid scurvy) helped a lot.

I’d be interested if there are other companies out there that have used a collaborative approach like this one to deciding on their mission, vision, values (or whatever they call them). If you know of any examples, pass ‘em on!

About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is President & Partner of New Kind, where he builds sustainable brands, cultures, and communities in and around organizations. He is the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World and is the Community Guide on the Management Innovation Exchange (hackmanagement.com).

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