In my strategy programs, one of the most common questions that come up is the nature of goals. People often ask this question in different ways. What is the difference between goals and vision? Some wonder how a mission is distinct from a vision? After all, you design your strategy to achieve your goals and your mission. Knowing the difference often helps you clarify and reflect on your goals.
Goals are the outcomes you seek. Usually, they are short term in nature and span a few months or at the most a year or two. Sometimes a business also sets long run goals that span a few years.
The time horizon of your goals often depends on the nature of your industry. A refinery or an infrastructure firm often has goals that span a few year. But a faster-moving business sets up shorter term goals. Your business often has an inherent rhythm that determines the time span associated with your goals. If your sales cycle is a few minutes over the phone, your goals will be daily, weekly and monthly goals. But if your sales cycle spans a few years, daily goals will have less meaning.
The acronym S.M.A.R.T (specific, measurable, achievable, reasonable and time bound) often relates to a goal.
While goals are something that you achieve, a vision is a state of being that you want to step into in the future. Writing a blog can be a goal but becoming the most followed blogger in your niche may be a vision. A vision is almost always longer term in nature and relates to your station in life at a point. So becoming the go-to service provider in your industry would be a vision.
Vision also has a property of comprehensiveness. While a goal can be a single outcome, a vision often involves many pieces to come together. Gaining 5% point market share is a goal but becoming the market leader is more of a vision. It is an inspirational state of being that one goes after. It becomes a driver of an entire organization and becomes an aligning force. A smart city is a vision whereas balance the city budget is a goal.
So how does vision differ from a goal? They differ in some minor ways, and that is where the distinction becomes tricky. To put a man on the moon in 10 years is a goal. To put a desktop on every desk in the world is a vision. Why is that the case? The former is a project with a clear outcome. But the latter is a transformed workplace of the future. At the same time, someone can say our vision is to put a man on the moon in 10 years, and that would not be a mistake either. And thus goals and vision can often overlap in significant ways.
Mission and a Personal Mission Statement
A mission is something that drives you from inside. Unlike a goal and a vision that you achieve, you can never fully realize your mission. It is something that you will keep doing forever and never be done with it.
My mission is to empower innovators. It makes me wake up in the morning and keeps me awake at night. I keep searching for ways to make innovators more successful. I try to keep bringing more and more people into the realm of innovations. But can I ever complete the task of empowering innovators? The answer is never. I cannot finish it by writing two books, creating 1000 articles and speaking to a million people. I cannot finish it even if I write 100 books. And thus it is a mission for me.
If you can claim “mission accomplished”, then it was not a mission but a vision or a goal. For example, you can never finish “bringing good things to life.”
When should you change Goals, Vision, and Mission?
As you achieve goals and your vision, you set new goals. But should you be changing your mission too? The answer is yes. When your current mission no longer inspires you, or something else calls you, what do you do? At that point, your mission has already changed.
In a way, you choose your goals and visions, but the mission chooses you. If you have been reading my blog regularly, you would know that academia is my second career. As a manager in the business world, my mission was to achieve transformation. Everything I did was driven by a sincere desire to bring about transformation.
As I stepped into the shoes of a professor, a mentor and a speaker, I noticed a change in my worldview. It was so gradual that I couldn’t even notice it as it was taking place. During that slow transformation, my focus shifted from achieving a transformation to helping others. And when I tried to articulate my new mission, it had changed to enabling innovators.
I didn’t change my mission. The new mission chose me.
What is your business’ mission, vision and goals? And what about your personal mission? Have you defined it yet?