The answer is… both.
A vision is a clear mental picture of a future desired state, preferably written. A great analogy for a vision is a jigsaw puzzle. Before you even begin to organize and assemble the small puzzle pieces that are inside of the box, you will see, very clearly, the final outcome displayed on the puzzle’s box top. That’s your vision – the outcome you’re striving to create.
Thankfully, life isn’t laid out for us like a puzzle. We get to create our own vision. Your vision may have nothing, whatsoever, to do with the reality of today, and everything to do with the outcome you want to create for your organization or team in the future. Good visions address the following types of questions:
- What picture do we want to create for the future of the organization?
- How do we want to be seen in 3-5 years by our employees? Customers? Community?
- What’s the higher, larger cause for which we fight?
The Importance of a Long-Term Vision
Here’s something every leader should keep in mind: it’s absolutely critical that you have a long-term vision of the future that you hope to create for your organization or team. This vision should be big and strong enough to guide your team or organization for the next three, five, or 10 years. Your vision should be:
- A force that encourages and energizes an individual
- A strong positive statement that’s exciting and compelling
- A clear picture of what the organization hopes to achieve
- Idealistic vs. realistic: don’t limit yourself to what you think “realistically” can happen
- Not time bound: In 5 to 10 years you may still not have achieved your vision- that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
Once you have a compelling, positive vision to guide the long-term direction of your team or organization, the next step is to set short- and long-term goals that, when completed, will turn your vision into a reality.
For example, if your vision is to create a culture where employees love coming to work, some of your short-term goals might include conducting an employee engagement survey and taking action on the areas the employees feel have the greatest opportunities. This may include creating a communication action plan to ensure that all employees are clear on the strategic vision and goals, or it may include developing leaders with a training program.
Setting and completing these short-term goals will help you achieve your long-term vision. Some of the keys to setting great goals include:
Ensuring your goals are written and specific, with a plan for accomplishment
Making the goal measurable and time bound
Assigning a person to be accountable for the accomplishment of the goal
Celebrating the successful completion of the goal
Why Do Visions Work?
Strong leaders recognize the value of a clear vision, and understand the importance of communicating that vision. According to our employee engagement research, employees from companies in the Best of the Best Benchmark responded 15% more favorably to the statement, “Employees at my company are clear on the company’s goals and future direction.” Our clients’ Best of the Best Benchmark tell us that visions work because they:
Concentrate everyone’s focus and energy toward a common goal
Build teamwork by creating excitement about the future
Transcend the often petty actions of those distracted from the strategic goal
Build momentum to overcome problems that develop
Great visions, combined with the short- and long-term goals that turn the vision into a reality, are a key aspect of great leadership. With a powerful positive vision, most team members will more easily feel excitement and pride.
Joel Barker said it best: “Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.”