“We all live under the same sky, but we don’t all have the same horizon.” — Konrad Adenauer, first chancellor of post war West Germany

Like mission and vision statements and values, goal setting and visioning labels often get confused and used interchangeably. Generally that doesn’t matter. As long as the people on our teams and in our organizations are clear and consistent with their meanings and approaches, we shouldn’t get hung up on definitions and jargon.

But many people really are confused about the conflicting and complimentary aspects of visions and goals. Goals are management issues. They deal with rational analysis, planning, measurement, and discipline. Visions are leadership issues. They deal with feelings, energy, ideas, and fantasy. These are not either/or choices — both are needed. These are and/also paradoxes to be balanced.

Differences Between Goals and Visions

  • Rational — use our head
  • Emotional — engage our heart
  • Mind
  • Spirit
  • What is Wanted
  • What Could Be
  • Measurable Objectives
  • Sense of Direction
  • Detailed Strategies and Plans
  • Picture of Preferred Future — Opportunistic
  • Focus
  • Purpose
  • Sets Priorities
  • Creates Energy

Goals follow out of the Focus and Context of our visions. They are shorter-term steps toward our longer-term vision. Especially in today’s fast-changing world, most detailed strategies or sets of plans aren’t relevant for more than a few months. Effective visions define what we want us, our team, or our organization to look like well into the future. To set goals is to be reasonable. To vision is to be bold.

Team and Organization Visioning

“All of the leaders to whom we spoke seemed to have been masters at selecting, synthesizing, and articulating an appropriate vision of the future. Later we were to learn that this was a common quality of leaders down through the ages.” — Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge

Within two months of joining forces in 1981, Art McNeil and I developed the first of many visions for our start-up training and consulting company, The Achieve Group. It became a yearly ritual for us, and later our team of Achievers, to review and revise our vision (and values) and then set that year’s strategies, goals, plans, and budgets. Starting with Tom Peters’ Toward Excellence program in 1983, we went on to help hundreds of management teams (some much more successfully than others) in many countries establish their Context and Focus and then put together implementation strategies and build the leadership skills that brought it all to life.

At Achieve and now at The CLEMMER Group, we have learned that a powerful organization vision will:

  • Create organizational energy and enthusiasm for change and improvement.
  • Provide an overarching “big picture” direction, focus, and passion to strategies, budgets, plans, systems, processes, and technological change.
  • Focus and build teams much more effectively than wilderness experiences, simulations, or group exercises (most “team building” activities are done in a vacuum and don’t last).
  • Counterbalance the pain, suffering, and helplessness that downsizing, disaster, or other such depressing activities usually bring.
  • Vaccinate people against the ‘Victimitis Virus’ and ‘Pessimism Plague’ by giving them a sense of hopefulness and self-determination.
  • Set up a “magnetic force” that will attract the people and “lucky breaks” needed to move toward the vision.
  • Repel those people who don’t want to be any part of anything so “unrealistic,” “fanciful,” “stupid,” etc.
  • Boost “psychic pay” so that everyone feels like a winner who is part of an organization that’s going somewhere exciting.